Hiring Contractors Appealing in Time of 'Tremendous Uncertainty'

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Yesterday I wrote about sluggish hiring in the U.S. technology sector. Although many experts predicted tech would lead a recovery in U.S. hiring, that hasn't happened yet and plenty of tech pros are hunting for work. A New York Times article featured one such pro, a 49-year-old software engineer who lost her job when her employer sent work overseas.


An economist interviewed in the article described an environment of "tremendous uncertainty," the kind in which companies spend cautiously, if at all. Instead of increasing IT budgets, many CIOs surveyed by Gartner report further slicing operating expenses to fund capital expenditures that cannot wait any longer, writes Gartner VP Mark McDonald on CNBC.


Gartner believes IT spending will remain essentially flat this year. A recovery could fizzle as companies complete upgrades and find they don''t have the budget for sustained spending, says McDonald.


Although companies might like to staff up for some of these projects, they aren't confident they'll have enough work for employees when the projects are completed. At least some companies appear to be dealing with this uncertainty by hiring more freelancers and part-time workers. Folks who obtain work through online outsourcing company oDesk worked more than 1 million hours in the month of August, an all-time high for the 7-year-old site, reports TechCrunch.


A year ago, workers on oDesk were logging less than half of that, about 400,000 hours per month. Online hiring is up 129 percent since last year, pretty impressive considering the flat employment growth in the larger economy.


Some 720,000 contractors use oDesk, working for 215,000 employers. Web programming and Web design are the top two job categories on the site, followed by blog and article writing. Employers have paid out a cumulative $185 million to online workers through oDesk, up from the $100 million last October.


While the title of the TechCrunch piece is "Online Workers Doing Fine," several commenters note it's a low pay scale, working out to about $15.40 an hour. Still, it's hard to fault companies for wanting a work force that can easily scale up or down as needed, with few financial or public-relations recriminations.