IT contractor demand 'set to spike thanks to the new normal hinging on technology'

Coronavirus lockdown lifting will boost IT contractor demand “further,” partly as technology is embedded into so much of the ‘new normal,’ a professional agency staffing boss predicts.

But speaking yesterday, the chief executive of APSCo was not foreseeing the gains being made from the low IT contractor demand of April-May, but from IT’s resilience in March.

In fact, a London vacancy tracker shows IT was the “dominant area” in the first weeks of shutdown, said Ann Swain, CEO of the Association of Professional Staffing Companies.

'Massive increase'

“Anecdotal evidence from members suggests that this was due to the massive increase in use of platforms which need constant security updates, capacity and increased functionality.

“This covers everything from video conferencing from organisations like Zoom and Microsoft Teams through to online shopping sites,” she told ContractorUK, adding:

“[But it also covers the many covid-related] massive new government projects such as the portals for claiming furlough payments and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.”

'CJRS has had an adverse effect'

Yet the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has had an “adverse effect” on the recruitment sector, the association said, writing in notes to its London vacancy tracker.

In daily volumes, that means the rolling five-day average reduced to 335 new professional vacancies across all 10 sectors in London, down from 1,000 to 2,000 a day pre-covid.

And week two of the shutdown had 9 per cent lower volumes than week one.

It’s a trend borne out by David Taylor, managing director of First Point Group in London, where the APSCo tracker counts opportunities advertised online.

'ICT demand now rising'

“We did see a dip in roles during the first four weeks of lockdown,” the IT staffing boss said yesterday.

“However [demand in ICT] is now rising, as it is possible for contractors to be more mobile and start new roles, plus remote on-boarding -- and working, is becoming more the norm.”

In line with his reading, ‘Software Engineer’ experienced the biggest surge in demand across APSCo’s 10-sector-wide job index, with a rolling five-day average of 570 new opportunities.

IT manager; IT infrastructure; IT specialist, IT analyst and IT support were the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth most-sought, respectively, trumping numerous roles across the 10 other sectors.

'Boom area'

“By professional job function,” the tracker notes say, “IT remains the dominant area of [all agency] hiring, accounting for 35% of all vacancies over the period since the shutdown.

“For context, normally in any given week it would be, at most, 15%.”

Despite the big uptick for IT, Ms Swain is not surprised. “Cyber security is a big boom area particularly with people working from home [due to the lockdown].

“There are also businesses switching their business models -- take events and exhibitions for example, which are all moving to online platforms.”

“But as we come out of lockdown, members are expecting tech contractor demand to increase further.”  

'Rate squeeze ahead of V-shaped recession'

At First Point Group, which places IT contractors at London’s telecom and tech companies, Mr Taylor sees things similarly – although with a potential pay cloud on the horizon.

“ICT recruitment sector has been pretty resilient on the whole…however [I believe] that there will be a greater focus from clients on costs, salaries and rates for the next six to 12 months as we enter, and come out of, what we all hope will be a V-shaped recession,” he said.

However, APSCo’s Ms Swain believes both the amount and diversity of work incoming to techies “as we enter what is becoming the ‘new normal,’” ought to help compensate.

“If you are a business that has survived [shutdown] then you are going to be thinking about accelerating everything you had been thinking of before – automation; ending your high street presence or rationalising office space and working more remotely,” she said. “All those trends will accelerate – and all involve technology.”

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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