Jo Gilbert is a Utilities expert, with a combined knowledge of 17 years in the Industry, starting her career at Npower. Jo has spent the past 7 years as a consultant advising the industry’s biggest players as well as new entrants into the supplier market. Here is the insight Jo gave us on being a contractor.
What is your current role and past experiences?
I’m currently UK Markets SME / Advisor for ESB (Electricity Supply Board) a statutory corporation in the ROI, 95% owned by the Irish Government. I have worked in the industry for 17 years, and have experience working on short and longer term assignments with Big 6 suppliers, new market entrants, local authorities, housing associations, metering providers, technology providers and have also worked with the DECC (now known as BEIS) and some charities too. The last 7 years as an industry consultant have been extremely varied, challenging but most importantly – enjoyable.
Why did you become an Interim?
- I struggled with monthly personal development plans (PDPs) as I think they should be an employee’s choice. I’m self-motivated to learn and I always felt like PDPs were looking for negatives to fix rather than celebrating achievements – I’m sure this isn’t the case in every company but felt PDP plans were negative for my own development.
- I was working with several contractors who were doing the same work as me and sometimes I was even supporting some of them. I was very aware they were being paid 4 or 5 times more a day than I was. I decided to hand in my notice and was called in immediately with an offer of pay rise to stay – confirmation that I had made the right decision. I have never been out of work since and I regularly engage with other contractors to work through my business to deliver projects for my ever-growing client base.
- I decided if the people I was working with and supporting could do it then so could I, so took control of how much I earned, how often I worked, who I wanted to work with and when. It’s the best decision I ever made. 7 years on, and my company turns over 10 times more a year than my annual leaving salary.
What are the benefits to interim work?
It all depends on what kind of contract you agree to really and how firm you are with the client over your terms. If you live 200 miles away from the client and they insist on you being on site, there is little point accepting a contract on a great day rate if you never see your family or friends because you’re away from home. There are companies out there that will embrace remote working, hopefully in this digital era more will become accepting of it. This last year I’ve worked remotely from Lanzarote for 3 months over a number of weeks for several clients. My advice is to get the work done, build your client’s trust, do a good job and don’t let them down. There’s a reason you get paid a good day rate so make sure you deliver the goods. Your reputation is only as good as the last contract you delivered.
Pay is definitely higher but then so is the risk to you. No holiday pay, no sick pay, no employee benefits. Not something to enter with rose tinted glasses. You need to consider VAT, Corporation Tax, Accountants, Insurance, IR35, Invoicing, the paperwork sometimes seems endless. And the dividend tax relief rules have also changed so it does need serious consideration. However my company turns over 10 times more a year than my previous annual leaving salary, so it’s worth it.
Personally, I never stop. My career has become my hobby – I enjoy it so much I don’t feel as though I have worked a day in 7 years. Self-development has to be driven by you. No one can motivate you to do this, motivation comes from within. You need to want to carry on learning at the end of the working day, in the evenings or at the weekend it is definitely needed to stay ahead of the game, to help anticipate where the industry will go next and what skills gaps you have which you need to brush up on.
Have a real impact on businesses
Contractors are brought into businesses to deliver short term pieces of work, projects etc. Specific skills may not be in the business or needed longer term, for example new entrants only go through the process of entering the market once so you wouldn’t need a permanent member of staff to struggle their way through this, you would bring a contactor in who has this knowledge. My rule of thumb – never go native, remember you are not an employee now, you are there short term only to deliver a bespoke set of deliverables, make sure you leave the client satisfied, you’ve delivered what they needed and done it well.
What are your thoughts on the current skill shortage in the industry?
I think it’s a real problem for energy suppliers in particular as there are so many of them now. You put a great team in place begin to transfer skills and knowledge to them and 3-4 months later they are gone to the next supplier and you are left with a skills gap again to fill – employees head hunted and job hopping for an extra few hundred pounds each time. It would be interesting to see the attrition rates of some businesses as I know so many people who are moving from one supplier to the next – it’s definitely not a favourable place for energy businesses right now. Contractors are only a short-term fix; businesses need to retain knowledge with permanent employees who are prepared to stay and grow with the business, but the package needs to be attractive enough for them to stay and not just financially. Succession planning is vitally important.
Any other insights you want to include?
Its damn hard work and a lonely place sometimes, you need to be agile! Rarely will you have a desk of your own and you may be brought in for one task but then realise they need something else instead so you need to be flexible, honest and trustworthy.