Is contract work or direct hire the best option in a school setting?
According to AOTA, almost 20% of occupational therapists worked in a school setting in 2014.1 This part of the workforce is a combination of contract workers employed by a healthcare company as well as direct hire employees who are on a school district’s payroll. Although they perform the same job and help children and teenagers with a range of health conditions, the agreements they have with their employers are very different.
Money and Benefits
The average OT earns about $86,000 annually, and the biggest factor in pay is location. States with a lower cost of living like Florida will traditionally offer less money. Therefore, a contract OT has a salary comparable to an OT directly employed by the school district. The biggest difference then is benefits like paid time off.
Some contract companies can pay their employees for sick days but that’s not always the case. Smaller companies specifically might not be able to afford this benefit because the school district only pays the company for services that were provided.
According to one occupational therapist, being a contract employee ‘can be a little bit strenuous for the therapist, especially when they can’t take days off without it hitting your pay,” This person was actually looking forward to a transition to direct hire work which according to her offers more stability and some of the benefits that just come with a direct hire like the PTO, vacation days and better medical/dental/vision plans.
Direct hire employers are more likely to assist with education as you work to advance your career and if you are lucky enough to work for a university you may even be able to pursue an advanced degree at a substantially discounted rate.
On the flip side, one of the biggest perks for contract workers is the support system of working within a company. Many companies offer relocation assistance, travel reimbursement, and some even have mentorship or professional development programs available to employees, which can be particularly beneficial to new grads.
One skill that contract OTs will be able to add to their resume is time management.
The positive outcome of having a busy schedule is that it can demonstrate hard work and commitment, skills that can make a difference to future employers. Plus, contract work can help you add multiple positions to your resume over a number of years, which also shows an employer that you bring adaptability and reliability to the table.
So as for whether contract work or direct hire is the better option, the answer is it depends. Both can be a great fit for the right person or at the right time in your career. Our advice is to weigh the pros and cons of each against your current career goals and make the decision that fits your existing skill set and your lifestyle or choose the one that offers the best opportunity to develop the skills you need for professional growth and long term career advancement.