PM’s lockdown roadmap helps drive IT contractor demand up an iota

Boris Johnson’s roadmap to ease covid restrictions gave the IT contractor jobs market a tiny but telling boost in February, edging it slightly above where it was in January.

Without the February roadmap, the market for IT skills on a contract basis may not have trumped the “not great” New Year, and may not even have grown at all.

That’s because coming in at 51.5, the market’s index score is only one-and-a-half index points over the 50.0 threshold at which it grows, placing it just a nose in front of January’s 51.1.

'Optimism, visibility'

“Pandemic uncertainty [is] still evident”, says James Stewart of index report co-authors KPMG, “but with the covid roadmap to recovery in place…there is reason for optimism”.

In its February update published in the same week the index was released by agency body the REC, hiring hub Indeed said the “job postings recovery” amid “lockdown 3” was “slow.”

“But with the UK’s vaccine rollout proceeding swiftly, the prime minister’s roadmap for reopening the economy gives employers visibility”, said the hub’s economist Jack Kennedy.

'Provided degree of clarity'

On Thursday, Page Group posted a near 90 per cent drop in annual profits, largely thanks to companies hiring freezing due to the pandemic. But the recruiter tempered its gloom, saying:

“In the UK, we are encouraged that the Brexit deal and the recent government announcements about lockdown easing have provided a degree of clarity.”

The REC also pointed to Budget 2021 as providing the labour market with a bit of a ballast, but the March 3rd delivery date falls after the period covered by its Report on Jobs.

'More could have been done at Budget 2021'

Even if the prospect of support by the chancellor provided an uplift, the REC’s Neil Carberry sounds disappointed at what Rishi Sunak went on to announce.

“More could have been done to tackle the big economic transitions we face, encouraging growth and reducing unemployment,” the Recruitment & Employment Confederation CEO said.

“Cutting employer NI [for example] to encourage job retention and creation, [or] replacing the failed apprenticeship levy with a flexible levy”.  

'Relatively robust'

But the labour market was still “relatively robust” in February and “coped remarkably well”, he added, “given the scale” of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions,

“Businesses have continued to use temporary work to help them through this tough period,” Mr Carberry followed up in an online post.

“The takeaway from all this seems to be that hiring is likely to recover strongly as the economy opens up. Sectors in decline are almost universally ones closed by the lockdown.”

'Broadly stabilised'

Far from in decline are shortages of technology skills for full-time IT roles –  there were 20 in February (up from 15 in January), including Agile PM; BI, C#, Python, CNC and SAP.

Twelve IT contractor skills were similarly described by REC member agencies as being in “short supply”; notably the entire list of full-time shortages, plus Java.

And on pay, salaries for permies declined in February for the second month in a row (albeit marginally), while rates for contractors “broadly stabilised.”

'Awful low-balling tactics'

Taking to LinkedIn to offer negotiation tips, including on rates, career coach Andrew MacAskill offered contractors some advice.

“Give an exact figure - ranges don’t offer clarity,” he posted. "[Instead], say your expectations are ‘market rate.’ Explain you would prefer to focus on the value you could create. This should help address the balance and protect you against your own anxieties -- and some of the awful ‘low-balling’ tactics that are being used.”

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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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