Top 5 AI contractor jobs for 2024

The Artificial Intelligence (AI) world is booming. The market is expected to expand by 38.1% (GAGR) between 2022 to 2023. Furthermore, the AI industry value is projected to increase by 13-times over the next seven years.

However, the technology in this field is moving faster than the talent which the UK is generating to deliver it. There is a significant talent gap, and the demand for qualified AI professionals -- contractors included -- far exceeds the supply, writes Matt Collingwood, of technology recruitment and AI job specialists VIQU.

Why an AI contracting career is probably for you

What makes an AI contracting career even more enticing than just the competitive day rates, is the diverse range of growth opportunities within this rapidly evolving industry. Whether you're interested in machine learning, computer vision, research, or development, the possibilities are vast.

Thanks to advancements in AI, poised to propel organisational growth, experts anticipate the creation of a staggering 133 million new jobs by 2030. This substantial surge, coupled with the increasing dependence on AI, is expected to unlock many contractor opportunities across diverse careers and sectors, both presently and in the years to come.

The top 5 AI contractor jobs for 2024 are shaping up to be:

1. Data Scientist

Data Scientists play a pivotal role in translating the groundbreaking discoveries of AI Researchers into practical applications.

Data science is gaining prominence across a range of industries including banking & finance, media & entertainment, and healthcare, highlighting its diverse uses and applications.

Success in the role of a Data Scientist hinges on proficiency in programming languages such as Python and R, coupled with a deep understanding of algorithms and their frameworks for constructing AI models.

On average, Data Scientists can command a day rate of £500-600 a day. With experience, a Data Scientist can become a Director of Data Science, earning substantial rates as high as £1,200 a day.

2. Machine Learning Engineers

Machine Learning Engineers play a vital role in the realm of AI.

While Data Scientists delve into information derived from 'data' and human learning curated by AI Researchers, Machine Learning takes a technology-driven approach to construct potent predictive models.

Machine Learning Engineers are tasked with the responsibility of crafting autonomous AI systems that automate these predictive models, thereby enhancing their efficacy.

Collaborating closely with AI Researchers, Machine Learning Engineers grasp the intricacies of the data that the machine learning algorithms are designed to address.

The key skills essential for success in this role include robust analytical abilities and hands-on experience with machine learning packages, such as SciPy and TensorFlow.

We have seen a 20% increase in the number of Machine Learning jobs in the UK in 2023, leading me to believe average day rates of £600 to £800 a day will only increase in 2024.

3. Deep Learning Engineers

Deep Learning Engineers operate at the forefront of AI, specialising in a subfield of machine learning that involves programming AI with brain-like structures known as neural networks.

In AI programming, Deep Learning Engineers play a crucial role in developing AI systems that produce versatile solutions. Their responsibilities include training these systems to comprehend unstructured data in diverse formats, such as text and PDFs.

Proficiency in coding is imperative for Deep Learning Engineers, with a focus on languages like Python.

Contractors in this field typically possess a combination of focused determination, patience, curiosity, and a keen intuition for handling data intricacies.

In my experience, there have always been parallels between Deep Learning and Machine Learning day rates, so please see the previous section on what pay you can likely command.

4. NLP Engineer

As a recruiter trained in Natural Language Programming (NLP), I’m fascinated by the role of NLP Engineers.

Personally, I have used several software products built by NLP Engineers, which have been game changers in the recruitment world.

These AI professionals specialise in interpreting human language, encompassing both spoken and written forms. NLP Engineers contribute their expertise to projects involving voice assistants, speech recognition, and document processing, leveraging advanced NLP technology.

Most NLP Engineers typically hold a specialised degree in computational linguistics. Beyond fundamental statistical analysis and computational skills, NLP Engineers must possess expertise in semantic extraction techniques, data structures, modelling, n-grams, sentiment analysis, and more. Proficiency in tools such as Python, ElasticSearch, and web development can be advantageous.

This role is still in its infancy, so rates have yet to mature, but NLP Engineers can expect to earn between £500 and £750 a day.

5. Research Assistant

If the above four AI jobs feel like a distant career dream, consider starting your AI contracting career through an entry point in the role of a Research Assistant.

The educational level for this position varies, ranging from an associate or bachelor's degree to master’s or PhD, depending on the organisation and role.

The responsibilities of a Research Assistant can include contributing to research programmes, developing algorithms for clinical data processing, and maintaining project databases.

Success in this role hinges on excellent communication skills and basic programming proficiency.

For those with one year of experience, the average rate is around £350 a day. Now, this might be lower than your current rate, however, I’d implore you to remember that taking the hit in the short term could be your entry into a career and industry that is only going to get more exciting and dynamic. And more lucrative. AI recruitment agencies like us are only seeing this industry go in one direction, so the bandwagon isn’t too far out of reach to still jump on!

The future of AI jobs for contractors

With the projected worth of the AI market expected to reach £160 billion by 2025, its adoption is now a crucial element for businesses across diverse sectors.

Despite concerns about AI causing disruptions in the job market, statistics on AI reveal a contrary trend. AI technologies are poised to generate a multitude of new job opportunities across diverse sectors, ranging from IT to the retail industry.

For conventional job-seekers and contractors alike, acquiring a foundational understanding of AI can pave the way to explore interesting career prospects that were previously non-existent, with rates moving energetically in the upward direction you’d expect from arguably the world’s most revolutionary technology.

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Written by Matt Collingwood

Matt Collingwood is the Managing Director of VIQU Ltd. an IT recruitment and project-based consultancy company with offices in Birmingham and Southampton. Matt is also the co-founder of the Recruitment Canaries, a network of West Midlands based recruitment agencies who encourage collaboration, best practice and upholding the standards and ethics of the recruitment industry.

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