Why day rates are on the rise for contractors in cyber security roles
But our UK Tech Contractor Day Rate Guide 2023, which received responses from almost 800 technology contractors and employers, also reveals that it's cyber roles that continue to see the highest day rate increase, by an average of 5.8%.
So, writes James Walsh, a business director at Hays who specialises in cyber, what’s driving this appealing upwards pay trend for IT contractors?
Cyber-attacks heighten demand for talent
Cyber security has long been a top priority for many organisations. But the sheer volume, scale and frequency of successful cyber-attacks we are witnessing today across all sectors, including public and private, has further increased the demand for talented cyber professionals. News coverage of cyber-attacks at high-profile organisations also creates awareness of the tangible cyber threat among a wide audience.
Our rate guide shows that cyber roles in financial services lead the way in terms of day rate rises, with contractors seeing a 9.3% increase compared to last year.
Although cyber-attacks are driven by many different motives, the financial services sector is a stereotypical target for hackers to fraudulently acquire funds. Financial services organisations have tended to pay higher day rates as they are used to dealing with risk and the cyber-threat only exacerbates this, so employers are eager to access talent to help protect financial assets at hand.
With the cyber threat here to stay, the demand for talent is ever-growing, but persistent, widespread and headline-generating cyber-attacks are not the only reason for the increase in cyber contractor day rates.
Ongoing skills shortages
While cyber-attacks are a contributing factor to the increased demand for skilled cyber contractors, arguably it's not solely the threat of cyber-attacks that increases the rate -- it's the lack of available talent out there in the market to address the growing demand from organisations.
According to our research, the vast majority (90%) of employers experienced skills shortages last year when trying to secure tech contractor talent. One way to compete for contractor talent in a skills-short marketplace is to offer an attractive day rate, and the significant increase in day rates for cyber roles reflects this.
Day rates are now unchanged by geography
Over the last 10 years, the demand for cyber skills has continually risen across tech throughout the UK; combined with the change in working environments as a result of the covid pandemic, day rate differentiation due to location has levelled.
And even though the pay gap in the cyber domain was beginning to close before covid, the pandemic was certainly a catalyst for this levelling of day rates regardless of geographical location. The cost-of-living crisis has also inevitably impacted the day rates being offered to contractors today.
Let’s look closer at rates in the regions. Whereas a few years ago contractors could command more for working in London, contractors ranging from cities like Edinburgh to Birmingham are now on a level playing field as a result of a rise in remote and hybrid working, as well as the sky-high demand for strong skillsets.
For instance, our guide shows that the typical daily rate for a cyber security analyst in London (£600) is the same as the day rate for the equivalent role in the Midlands (£600) and South East England (£600).
Cyber is still a niche skill set and the talent pools to meet the demand are scarce, and that’s why these contractors are very valuable to organisations across the UK and are being paid accordingly.
Work-life balance in the cyber world
Pay is unquestionably important, especially considering the uncertain economic climate, but being able to achieve a positive work-life balance is a crucial consideration for almost half (47%) of contractors, our guide shows.
We believe employers should offer flexible working where possible to help facilitate this, given 78% of contractors say the opportunity to work from home or remotely is an important consideration for a new role.
There is a considerable risk of burnout amongst cyber contractors, who often work long hours and may have to deal with stressful situations if a major cyber incident happens. Particularly in a market with short supply, it’s vital for employers to keep an eye on the mental health of professionals working in this area, or risk making skills shortages worse if burnt-out cyber contractors decide to leave their jobs. In a candidate-led market, cyber contractors are more likely to turn down opportunities that don’t align with their values or meet their expectations, when it comes to things like flexibility and pay.
Ultimately, cyber contractor day rate rises are a complex notion of cyber-attacks; talent shortages and a large number of organisations looking to advance their cyber defence systems. Fortunately for suitably skilled contractors, it’s hard not to see this trio continuing their upward trajectory over summer 2023 and beyond.