IT contractors and the future of tech jobs: What you need to know

What does the on-demand jobs market mean for IT staffing and projects?

Signing employment contract

More and more staff are looking to work on interesting projects for diverse companies, rather signing up for the long haul with a single employer.

Image: iStock

The world of work has changed forever: the job for life has been replaced with new forms of employment, many of which rely on flexible terms, short-term contracts, and interim placements.

This new form of working is particularly prevalent in the IT industry, with Harvey Nash and KPMG reporting steady growth in the number of IT leaders using flexible labour for more than half of their technology team.

So what does this change in employment trends mean for CIOs? How can they find skilled staff to develop projects that change business for the better? ZDNet speaks to the experts and receives best practice tips for securing tech talent in the flexible labour market.

1. Make sure that the benefits of innovation spread
Camden Council interim CIO Omid Shiraji recognises that a shift in employment terms is taking place in IT. He refers to the contract-like nature of modern employment as 'Velcro working' as individuals employed under these conditions become attached to companies for the duration of specific projects.

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"This mode of working can be key in IT, where your next generation of employees are not necessarily loyal to a company but are keen to work on interesting projects," says Shiraji. "They come together, deliver their work and then move on -- that's a big challenge for any IT leader looking to recruit good people for their organisation."

One coping strategy, says Shiraji, is for CIOs to ensure their organisation is involved in innovative projects. "Everyone, from the executive team downwards, must understand that innovation has to be a priority. Senior managers will need to invest in projects that might not have strong business cases initially," he says.

Shiraji says the talent drain and the recruitment challenge are high priority items on his agenda. "If it causes pain for my direct reports, it causes issues for me," he says. "There isn't an easy fix. However, I don't think the contractor problem is new and I don't think it's getting worse. The skills shortage will always be a problem until we solve the root cause, which is related to education and training."

2. Build a team around commercial skills, not just technical ones
Andrew Marks, former CIO and now UK and Ireland managing director at Accenture Technology Strategy, is another expert who says the nature of IT skills demand has changed. CIOs used to look to hire infrastructure experts who could test, provision, and maintain IT. Now, CIOs can just pick up the phone or use an app to access more service capacity on demand.

"The burning platform for CIOs is the rate of change in technology," he says. "IT is transforming so quickly that it's very difficult to recruit and retain staff."

Marks says the rate of change is such that CIOs are going to have to start thinking about the smallest number of people they can use to run core IT.

"There'll always be some things you need to manage internally," he says. "But are the people you employ as IT professionals in the future going to be the same as before? No, because the skills base of the modern IT leader is increasingly about engagement and commercial acumen rather than technology expertise."

Marks suggests the small, retained IT staff will likely focus on governance concerns. The rest of the technology department will become what Accenture refers to as a liquid workforce. "CIOs are likely to bring in just the right individuals to deliver packages of work, a piece of code, or to access services on a finite basis, each one contributing to a project or service," he says.

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3. Understand how the organisation can benefit from hybrid skills
Jonathan Mitchell, non-executive director at Harvey Nash and former CIO at Rolls Royce, says the potential for IT to drive real change suffered in the immediate aftermath of the recession in 2008. However, technology-led transformation is back on the agenda full-time -- and its impact is being felt right across the various lines of business, with a resulting effect on IT roles.

"Business specialists are starting to appear in a hybrid role," he says. "What you're starting to see is process change groups and roles across the organisation that are used to help create a link between business requirements and the work of the IT department."

IT, says Mitchell, is more pervasive than ever before. "At first, a lot of organisations struggled to understand what digital transformation would mean for their business," he says. "With the consumerisation of IT, knowledge has increased and progress is already being made in regards to new roles across the interface between technology and the rest of the business."

"It's the boomerang effect," he says. "IT is often slow to respond to the requirements of change, and the rest of the business is sometimes slow to understand the potential impact of technology. In the end, everyone cottons on and everything comes back to technology. There's an expectation now because IT is ubiquitous."

4. Think of flexible working in relation to broader business aims
While IT-enabled processes -- like outsourcing and automation -- can improve business efficiency, CIOs also have to be cognisant of the broader business strategy. Warwickshire County Council CIO Tonino Ciuffini says one of his organisation's key priorities right now is encouraging employment in the local area.

"There's a balance," he says. "We still need to provide jobs for people to do. Part of my job is to work with industry and encourage new opportunities across the county. Yet I also need to think carefully about how technology can be used to improve the way we serve citizens."

Ciuffini says mobility can play a key role. Technology can enable new ways of flexible working, such as home working, but collaboration must be maintained.

"A key element of working is interaction and bouncing ideas off one another," he says. "I've got staff who say to me that they don't want to be on their own all day. If you're going to offer new ways of working, you must think about how you develop a strong team ethic and great group dynamics."

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