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Nanotech Nullified

Young Engineer Hurt by Independent Contractor Law

This is the true job-search story of Jake, a Bachelor of Science graduate of Boston University, who lives in a pleasant suburb west of Boston. Jake is a calm, personable young man and a relentlessly hard worker. He graduated in May, 2013, with the distinction cum laude, meaning “with praise.” He earned that praise.

Jake majored in Biomedical Engineering, with a concentration in Nanotechnology and minors in Chemistry and Biology. His resume looks like what our state’s leaders would call “the resume of the future,” loaded with accomplishments to build our state’s economy during the next 50 years. Can you make a functioning heart-on-a-chip? Jake did. Here’s how.

Jake took courses in thermodynamics and statistical dynamics, quantitative and analytical chemistry, systems physiology, biological and environmental acoustics, nano-meter scale processes in living systems, speech signal processing, and product design and innovation, among others. His list of course projects looks like the work of an engineer twice his age. Wait, there’s more.

While taking these courses and doing the projects, Jake managed the $700,000 student activities budget at BU as Director of Operations of the BU Allocations Board. He founded a fraternity, choreographed and danced with three nationally competitive dance teams, volunteered at Mass General Hospital, and was Treasurer of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers.

Jake wants to go to work designing medical devices, a particularly strong future occupation in the Bay State. He’s qualified for his goal, too. Clearly he is a young man with a bright future, right? Wait, there’s more.

Jake has college debt, more than $30,000 in his name and $80,000 in his father’s name. Jake has to find well-paying work soon, in his field, to have a chance to repay it.

Jake expected to find work immediately in metro Boston’s medical device industry making invasive or non-invasive devices. Employment in that field was growing explosively until five years ago, when increased regulation and the new excise tax on medical devices reversed job growth. Medical device companies shrank hiring under the load of higher costs. Medical device employment peaked while Jake was at BU.

Career Step One. When Jake graduated, he took all the normal job search steps: applying at companies, searching Monster and many other on-line job sites, working with the BU Career Center, searching through LinkedIn , networking with friends of his family. Nothing worked. Posted positions with Massachusetts’ name-plate companies were always filled internally. Effectively there were no jobs in his field available for fresh graduates.

Career Step Two. Next Jake looked nationwide for full-time jobs that used some of his many skills. Here the story got more adverse. The full-time openings available to him were outside his field and didn’t offer a ready route to return to it. For instance, he was offered a position coding medical records in an obsolete computer language, which would instantly make him seem out of date elsewhere. He got a job offer at low pay in customer service in a small city in the midwest, which didn’t justify the move, was outside engineering, and was a burnout position that would inhibit his eventual return to engineering.

Career Step Three. Jake’s normal next move would be to look for independent contractor work with consulting service firms that offer engineering, design, analytic, diagnostic and systems services. Such firms are always on the lookout for young talent like Jake. Jake has a broad range of knowledge, learns fast, is personable and loves to travel. He’s a perfect candidate for a trial assignment to a client project in his field, without even moving from Massachusetts.

Facing An Insurmountable Barrier. Sadly, the Massachusetts Independent Contractor Law (MICL) makes it impossible for consulting companies in-state or out-of-state to engage Jake legally on a project basis as a contractor. The MICL applies harsh, triple-damage penalties to consulting companies that use Massachusetts talent in the companies’ line of work. Such engineering work is exactly the work Jake wants and is trained for. With no local hiring in his field, a big debt load, and no chance of doing high-value-added consulting work, Jake’s job search for work in his field as a Massachusetts resident is effectively over.

What would you do? Jake faces exceptionally unattractive employment choices. 1) He can wait for some lucky break or a sea-change in the engineering job market, meaning maybe waiting years. 2) He can move out of state immediately, without a job, to gain access to consulting opportunities. 3) Or he can leave his field, never having been permitted to enter it. What would you do? What can you do?

You Can Create an Alternative: Change the MICL. You can help Jake and the hundreds of thousands of other people whose careers have been harmed by the MICL: Write or email your state Senators and Representatives to support the “Safe Harbor Amendment.” Send New Jobs a copy of each letter or email. And include a contribution to New Jobs so we can find and energize all the affected workers in this state. Help us reach those who would like to be self-employed independent contractors in their field.

Every dollar you give--$5, $50, $500, $1,000--will change this law and help people like Jake.


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