Contractors vs employees. Was: Re: Jobs Future for Technical Communication

Subject: Contractors vs employees. Was: Re: Jobs Future for Technical Communication
From: "Race, Paul" <pdr -at- CCSPO -dot- DAYTONOH -dot- NCR -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 2 Dec 1994 08:18:00 EST

Rick Lippincott's excellent opinion on an organization's inability to retain
"history" when it goes to a nearly-all contractor workforce.

Paul -dot- d -dot- race -at- daytonoh -dot- ncr -dot- com writers:

I agree, only moreso. Issues include:

Lack of understanding of the real issues:

After a period of time with a company, employees begin to have a sense of
"what's going on" that's bigger than the sum of the responsibilities of
their present job. The whole point of Japanese management style is that
sometimes people doing the actual work have good ideas. But such ideas will
never prosper in an all-contractor environment, because, by the time the
writer has caught on to the real issues (not the day-to-day tasks) affecting
her job, she's somewhere else and a new writer has taken her place.

No offense to the contractor, but it's entirely possible that the writers
are doing the wrong job altogether or the wrong type of job, but they're
hired to perform a niche service, and companies are far less willing to
listen to them when they have suggestions for improvement than they are to
listen to career employees. When ALL the writers in a group or subgroup are
contractors, there is a special danger of ongoing problems being overlooked
until they completely overwhelm the employer's organization.

Orientation issues:

Within NCR (now AT&T) we used to have a group of professional writers with
20+ years of experience who did nothing but train new writers. We had quite
a culture of technical writing, and many writers who left us went on to
start successful writing companies, or to teach technical writing in
college, etc. Yes, there were problems, certain less-than-optimum practices
that had cascaded through the organization over the years, but an NCR writer
was a known quantity. You could take him off ATMs and put him on databases
and expect consistent format, language, and quality.

Then several organizations who had traditionally used many writers
reorganized and dozens of writers in Dayton alone "hit the streets." In
fact, many of them found their skills were in demand with other companies,
until so many were layed off that they saturated the market.

In more recent times, when we tried to "staff" up again, we've found that
getting a writer oriented to "our way of doing things" often takes longer
than the length of the average contract. And by the time we have "broken
them in" they're somewhere else. Again, this is not to say that contractors
aren't valuable people with good ideas. But retraining a new staff every
six months or so in such areas of our organizational structure, our quality
procedures, our format and language issues, etc., is an incredible drain on
the current writers. Of course, since a lot of these contractors work in
divisions where there are no career NCR/AT&T writers left, nobody recognizes
the problems until the contractor's moved on (and maybe 2 or 3 have come and
gone) and other AT&T organizations discern that they have a document that is
structured differently than all the others, which doesn't use the same
format or types of language, etc., and that wasn't subject to the same
quality screening. Occasionally they are better than those typically
produced by career writers, but different isn't always good.

Just my .29 - paul -dot- d -dot- race -at- daytonOH -dot- ncr -dot- com

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