The changing face of IT contractor skills in 2023

As digitisation continues to reshape the world we live in, the IT landscape is evolving faster than ever before and is almost unrecognisable compared to eras past.

With the introduction of AI and a rise in cyber security, writes Rupert Ronca technology manager at STEM recruitment specialist Matchtech, the big question is this -- can your current skillset keep pace?

Here, exclusively for ContractorUK, I want to identify some key changes in the IT sector and consider how rapid industry progression will impact professional skillsets and shape the industry of the future. 

What we got a decade ago was defining

Technology has come a long way in the past decade, and it is this technology that has defined the digital era we find ourselves in today.

The magnitude of these changes, including computing power, analytical sophistication, and the growth in cloud computing has been a catalyst in the ever-changing landscape. 

Statistics on our database reflect that job opportunities across the technology sectors are on the rise. But the ongoing skills gap means that demand continues to outweigh supply. 

The 55,000 IT openings which aren’t filled

This imbalance didn’t come about overnight. Many companies began hiring IT professionals to update their IT systems to reflect a post-pandemic environment that saw the rise of cyber threats. Unfortunately, the economic situation -- a situation we’re still not clear off -- saw many of these companies publicly reduce their headcount.

However, despite redundancies and the UK’s unstable economy, the demand for IT professionals remains at an all-time high. In fact, we aware of a massive 55,000 unfilled technology vacancies in May 2023 alone. 

The rise of the non-tech hirers (needing tech hires)

There’s another engine exerting upward pressure on demand. As the world becomes more reliant on technology, non-tech companies which once-upon-a-time wouldn’t have needed IT contractors are becoming reliant on tech expertise. Currently, such non-tech engagers require help to:

  • Migrate their systems to a modern environment (including building internal digital capability);
  • Protect sensitive data and ensure all digitised systems work seamless together, and;
  • Managed increased use of data as more divisions of businesses become more data-led.

Ultimately, these predominately non-tech organisations are a concern to the demand-supply ratio, because it means that if the skills shortage is not addressed, the imbalance will not only persist but continue to grow. 

What is the driving force behind the UK’s technology skills shortage?

There’s a few reasons behind the IT skills shortage, so let’s take them in turn.

Firstly, the rapid advancements in technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, and other emerging technologies are changing the very nature of professional opportunities. 

Required skillsets are evolving faster than many can keep up, including us agents. To remain competitive in the jobs market, freelance professionals (more than most) are continually expected to keep pace with the progression and develop their skillset to accommodate client needs, which naturally isn’t easy. 

Four large areas of IT commanding more focus

Besides extensive knowledge of the industry, its current operating systems, and networking software, professional skillsets within the IT sector now have a stronger emphasis on technical skills, notably the following four:

  • Programming,
  • App development,
  • Digital transformation, and;
  • Cyber security

These four are large areas of IT, each containing multiple roles with varying levels of seniority, so rates vary massively. At the top end however, there are plenty of contractors commanding upwards of £1,000 per day and at the lower end, anything from £350 per day is typical.

The roles of DevOps, Security, and Artificial Intelligence

In addition to these four, the rise of DevOps practices has led to increased collaboration between operation and development professionals. This collaborative approach means additional demand for more hybrid skillsets encompassing continuous integration and deployment infrastructure, CI/CD, infrastructure as code (IaC), and automation tools. 

The ever-growing threats landscape has made cybersecurity a critical focus for many organisations. Consequently, we have seen a rise in security-focused roles, which now account for a dominating 58% of the industry. 

Cyber security is a very competitive field. Candidates are required to have skills in ethical hacking and penetration testing, as well as network security, incident response, threat detection, and risk management. 

With the rise in AI technology, we are also starting to see a significant rise in skills not easily mastered by computers, such as creative thinking, problem-solving, and negotiating. 

Contract versus Perm

From a billings standpoint, we are seeing contract opportunities rising at a similar pace to permanent roles to take care of these more nuanced, computer-challenged requirements. That said, we are seeing ongoing appetite for both types of talent across multiple technology-using sectors.

Organisations remain alert to the fact that skilled contractors are an ideal short-term solution to complete a given task. But such end-hirers also like the fact that IT contractors can upskill the current workforce, helping to improve staff retention and even starting to bridge that age-old skills gap. Just be aware that organisations might well regard permanent staff as knowing their business better, as such full-timers can be tasked with the strategic direction of IT operations and provide longer-lasting input into technology adoption.   

The future

Will it be enough? At the time of writing, we estimate that half of companies across STEM industries are struggling to retain and hire a skilled workforce. To address this, we believe industries need to create broader opportunities for workers outside of the UK and open career paths for the younger generation. 

But while we think on that, the IT industry is reshaping the world around us day-by-day. To properly bridge the skills gap, we need to act now to introduce new talent and evolve skillsets to keep pace with technology’s changing face.

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Written by Rupert Ronca

With over 15 years of experience in technology recruitment, Rupert Ronca has gained a deep understanding of various industries, from multi-national engineering and finance firms to tech start-ups looking to disrupt the norm. Throughout his 15 years at Matchtech, he has continuously strived to be a trusted partner who can guide organisations toward success in an ever-changing technological landscape.

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