Boom in IT contractor numbers

Working in IT as a contractor through one’s own company is a growing business, an accountant armed with official stats has calculated.

In fact, the UK’s stock of self-employed IT contractors has jumped from 76,972 in 2010 to 119,617 in 2016, found SJD Accountancy, which obtained figures from the ONS.

But the spread of IT and the ensuing need for more people to work in it -- professionally -- does not fully explain the 55% jump, the firm hinted, as the full-time IT workforce is far behind in the growth stakes.

In particular, ONS data for the same six-year period reveals that the number of employees in IT has increased, but by significantly less -- 29%, from 509,000 to 659,000.

SJD put the number of contractors in IT growing at almost twice the rate of their full-time counterparts down to the following five factors:

  • Erosion of full-time employment rights since the financial crisis has changed the perception that contracting is riskier
  • No longer is there a greater risk of being out of work as a contractor if their skill is in high-demand
  • Economic uncertainty, compounded by Brexit, makes employers less inclined to make the bigger commitment that hiring people permanently entails
  • Contractors have higher take-home pay than employees, ideal to cover any contractual gaps
  • Contracting is a career and lifestyle choice.

This latter factor is one that SJD’s chief executive Derek Kelly believes has played a part in reducing the IT workforce’s age-old gender imbalance -- in terms of people and pay.

He pointed out that the growth of self-employment in IT has been driven disproportionately by women, as 14% of IT contractors are now female (16,658), compared with just 9% in 2010 (7,158).  

“Contracting is particularly suited to women who may have childcare responsibilities,” SJD reflected. “Contractors can choose not to work during the school holidays, and usually have greater flexibility than permanent employees about the hours they work and from which location.”

Mr Kelly added that the increasing proportion of women IT contractors was significant, as “contractors tend to earn more than their permanent counterparts, which suggests that the pay gap between men and women in the IT sector is likely to be narrowing.”

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