Increase in IT Jobs Led by Contract Worker Demands
July 19, 2010 Dan Burger
In the IT job market, recession-proof careers were about as reliable as tissue paper umbrellas. A lot of people got rained on. It’s not much better now than it was a year ago, but it is better. From a variety of sources comes the word that companies are ready to hire again. Some will try to reclaim quality people that were laid off, while others will look for less experienced, less expensive replacements or additions. Shops running their businesses on the IBM i operating system are following the same hiring pattern as everyone else.
After talking with a handful of employment recruiters familiar with the IBM midrange, there’s a general consensus that an uptick in hiring has been taking place during 2010. In some cases that means adding permanent full-time employees. In other situations it means farming out contract work that ranges from full time for an extended period to part time and as needed.
The highest paying and most secure jobs are often positions that require relocation. For many people, it’s not an easy decision to make a major move. Others make the job the priority and decide they will adjust to new surroundings.
“I am definitely getting more unsolicited requests for skilled people this year compared to last,” says Carole Comeau, who runs her own one-person recruiting business, Comeau Consulting, from Escondido, California. “That’s always a good sign.”
Comeau says she’s busy, but that hardly means that jobs are plentiful. Part of the reason her phone is ringing is that companies are looking for contract workers. Those companies want skills, but they don’t want full-time employees, she says. The contract jobs are frequently completed in a matter of weeks rather than months. Part of that is the IT backlog of tasks that have been delayed through the recession. It’s project work and upgrade assistance.
“I’d describe the job market as coming back, but ever so slightly,” Comeau says.
Regularly scouring the Web for IT job postings specific to the IBM i platform, Comeau comes to the conclusion that positions are not as easy to find in Southern California as they are in other parts of the country.
I talked with a couple of employment recruiters in the Philadelphia area. Neither wanted to be quoted for publication or identified by the companies that employ them, but both said the pace of hiring at IBM midrange companies was picking up. One recruiter had placed 10 people with jobs so far in 2010 and that was more than he had done in all of 2009.
John Reed, a district president at tech recruitment firm Robert Half Technology, works the south central region of the United States, but interacts with other district presidents around the country. His viewpoints are flavored somewhat by the region, but are also nationwide in scope.
Rarely does Reed have clients coming to his company requesting technology skills that are specialized for IBM i systems. But on the topic of hiring full-time employees or contract employees he sees a strong trend toward contract workers.
“Companies are embracing the move from fixed to variable costs in workers,” Reed says. “There is a significant model that shows the benefits. A full-time employee has salary and benefits and other things. Companies are looking at the number of full-time employees it takes to manage an average workload. Anything beyond that is going to be supplemented with contract staff. The variable cost model takes into account only paying for people when the company needs them. When the need passes, the cost of adding the staff will go down when the staff is cut. It allows more control of costs.”
Reed sees “a much bigger appetite for contract workers than full-time workers.”
According to the latest Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report, which was based on CIO surveys completed in early 2010, 10 percent of chief information officers plan to expand their IT departments and 4 percent foresee personnel cutbacks. That’s a net 6 percent increase in hiring. The report also notes that 81 percent of CIOs are confident in their companies’ third-quarter growth prospects.
“I would call the mood on hiring cautiously optimistic,” Reed says. “Hiring is increasing. More managers are planning to hire than are planning to shrink the size of their staffs. And there is a pent up demand for IT projects that are being released.”
Many companies cut IT staffing too deep when the recession hit. They are expected to reload with full-time employees after the first marginal increases in business put them in a position of not being equipped to handle it with their current IT staff.
“Companies will first look to fill mission critical roles with full-time people,” Reed says. “Many of these roles are very specialized and require a high skill set. Companies want those people on the payroll.”
Companies are hiring a full-time project leader, he says, and then hiring a contract staff that completes a specified job. Upon completion, the contract staff is let go and the project is turned over to the project leader and the full-time staff.
By the way, the Robert Half IT report also noted that CIOs worry about retaining key players on their teams. Just over one-third of technology executives are concerned about losing top IT performers to other job opportunities in the next year. And 43 percent of those surveyed believe it is very difficult to find skilled IT professionals today.