Full-time IT professionals as a group were hurt worse by the recession than contract workers, because they faced layoffs as opposed to a less-devastating decrease in contract fees. Now those full-timers are making a comeback.
A lot of employers continue to be skittish about hiring full-time workers because of their uncertainty about the economy. But according to Tom Silver, senior vice president at IT employment services provider Dice.com, the percentage of full-time jobs vs. contract jobs is growing, and is expected to return to near pre-recession levels by the end of next year:
On Dice, the percentage of full-time jobs has crept slightly up over the course of the year, to where it's now at 60 percent. The percentage of contract jobs has slightly gone down to around 45 percent. The reason that adds up to more than 100 is that some jobs can be both. The projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics are such that there's forecast for general improvement in economic conditions through 2011. And as that happens, I would expect to see the percentage of positions that are full-time will slowly increase to 63-65 percent by the end of next year. And the percentage of contract jobs will probably decline a little bit to probably the low 40s. Just to give you some historical perspective, if you go back to February of 2009, the percentage of full-time positions on Dice was 67 percent, and the percentage of contract positions was 42 percent. So I think that's probably the direction we're heading in again.
That said, Silver also noted that in the near term, employers will be forced to rely heavily on contract workers to get projects that were put on hold quickly back on track:
Companies have things that they have to get done right away. And sometimes it's hard, if you haven't hired for a while, maybe you laid some people off, and now you realize you're sort of up against it, and you've got to get certain infrastructure things done right away. So if you haven't hired in a while, and you've got to find people literally tomorrow, that's great for a contractor. So oftentimes, bringing in a contract worker can be quicker, and the risk can be lower. You can find contractors, and you might be able to bring them in within a week, where typically bringing in someone full-time takes a lot longer. So some companies have realized that they're sort of in desperate straits, to some extent-they've held back on certain infrastructure projects and other tech projects, and they realize they've got to get it done, like now. That sense of urgency, "I've got to have it now," can work well for a contractor. That said, longer-term, employers realize that as their business improves and they feel less uncomfortable and less uncertain, they can resume some of the infrastructure projects on a longer-term basis.
So what about companies that rely heavily on contract workers to avoid having to spend the time and money to retrain full-time workers as the organization's skills needs change? Isn't the argument in favor of that sort of nimbleness a strong one? Not according to Silver, who calls it a shortsighted, expensive way to go:
I wouldn't do that. I think it's short-term to do that. In the longer term, it's going to cost you more. If you continue to rely on contractors, what happens when they leave? Companies have to build up tech expertise within their own infrastructure and environment in order to compete going forward. If you continue to just bring in the outside guys who then turn around and leave, you're not building up that skills base within your own organization. Ultimately it's going to cost you more, and it's going to slow you down in the future.