Your Next Big Tech Job Is. . . Freelancing
June 16, 2014 Alex Woodie
Businesses are increasingly turning toward freelancers and independent contractors to get the expertise needed to complete many jobs, including IT-related tasks. The trend toward a more itinerant workforce will have repercussions for IBM i shops, including those that are struggling to fill jobs left by retiring Baby Boomers as well as those faced with a flood of applicants for a handful of jobs.
The world around us is looking more temporary by the day. Instead of buying a car, people get a ride via Uber. Just about anything you can think of–a guitar, a bike, the comfort of a dog–is available for rent on your local Craigslist. Rentable housing is on the upswing as we exit the Great Recession. And even full-time, permanent jobs are looking like a thing of the past.
A 2010 study commissioned by Intuit found that, by 2020, 40 percent of the U.S. workforce, or about 60 million people, will be part of the itinerant workforce. Currently, about 12 percent of the workforce, or 17 million people, are working as temps, freelancers, and independent contractors.
The downfall of the permanent job and the rise of the self-employed is good news for Peter Cannone, the CEO of OnForce, a company that runs a Web platform serves as a matchmaker between companies that need IT services and the people who can provide those services.
“We were founded in 2004 to allow business to find highly skilled independent contractors in an on-demand, short-term basis–by the event, by the day, or by the week,” Cannone tells IT Jungle. “We’re dispatching on-site technicians to do break/fix repair, installation. Anything that would requires a person to be onsite to do the work–networking, cabling, Citrix installation, fixing a printer, or installing an EMC Symmetrix storage device.”
Or servicing an AS/400, iSeries, System i, or Power Systems servers (powered by IBM i). A search of the OnForce website reveals that it has its share of certified and vetted IBM i professionals who are available to change disk drives, replace cache batteries, string Cat-5 cabling, or fix buggy terminals in given areas of the country. Although the company’s focus is primarily on hardware, many of the IBM i-types tout RPG and CL knowledge as well. More advanced application development work is better handled through outfits like oDesk or Elance, he says.
OnForce isn’t the only outfit providing these sorts of services, but it’s probably one of the largest, with more than 2.2 million completed assignments for more than 6,500 customers over a decade. Cannone claims his total OnForce workforce of 120,000-plus (not all of them currently active) can reach more than 99 percent of the zip codes in the U.S., and most of Canada, too. The Lexington, Massachusetts, company has serviced some of the biggest corporations in the country, including blue chips like AT&T, Apple, Comcast, Pitney Bowes, and Xerox. Last year, OnForce’s revenues grew 50 percent, Cannone claims, and the changing demographics seem certain to keep those numbers high.
Bob Langieri, director and CEO of Excel Technical Services, has had his finger on the pulse of the Southern California IBM midrange job market for more than 40 years. While Langieri specializes in placement of full-time jobs, a quick search of his website shows a lot of jobs start out as contract positions.
“While the job market had been improving during the second half of 2013 and looking more positive for 2014, companies are still a bit uncertain about hiring and more importantly, what skills they really need,” Langieri writes on his website. “The new ‘Obamacare’ health care law is still confusing many companies and has caused many companies to restrain hiring full-time employees. Sometimes companies opt to outsource a project or bring in a contractor. The reality is currently there are still very few openings and for some jobs there are too many candidates and for other jobs, we are hard pressed to find all of the skills the client is looking for.”
Several factors appear to be driving the trend toward a more itinerant workforce. Risk-averse corporations like working with temps and freelancers for several reasons. For starters, hiring temps makes it easier to grow and shrink their workforces as demand rises and falls. With temps, companies don’t have to invest in expensive medical insurance or retirement plans, and it shifts much of the regulatory risk onto others.
Technology has also greased the wheels of the temp economy. Without slick mobile apps, ride-sharing companies like Uber–which boasts a $6-billion valuation–would probably not exist. Social media like Facebook and Twitter has helped fuel the “localism” movement that’s taking hold in cities across the country. But some of the responsibility for the shift falls on workers themselves, particularly members of the so-called Generation Y, who are more concerned with “work-life” balance than previous generations, Cannone says.
“What’s going on in the U.S. right now is most young people, millennials, don’t want a full-time job,” he says. “Their thought process is they want to be more their own boss, they don’t want to be tied down to one thing, they want the agility and flexibility to do a lot more. It’s just a different way of thinking. It’s like workforce 5.0.”
Workers today must look out for their own interests, whether it’s about a finding a job, getting health insurance, or planning retirement. The go-it-your-own path may look scary to those in their 60s and 70s, but it also provides new opportunities that may not have existed before.
In addition to providing a platform to match freelancers and private contractors, OnForce sets up and runs private networks of workers for certain clients. In many cases, these private networks consists of people with very specialized or hard-to-find skills, such as IBM i expertise. And many times, these private networks will be available to retirees who are looking to supplement their incomes.
“We have a lot of larger enterprise clients that we partner with,” Cannone says. “We’re building them a network of retirees who want to come back and do work on an as-needed basis by event in a local area. We’re filling a tremendous gap for them and it’s optimizing their workforce so they can continue to deliver the quality services that they need.”
Considering the lack of available IBM i talent in some geographical areas, the ongoing retirement of babyboomers, and the difficulty that IBM is having convincing young people to learn “legacy” technologies like IBM i and RPG, it would seem that a retiree network like the one Cannone built at OnForce could be just the ticket to keep the IBM i platform ticking at companies across the country.