Artificial Intelligence: Three-quarters of IT contractors to upskill in AI, in pursuit of 12% rate premiums

Contractors in IT still aren’t convinced about Artificial Intelligence -- at least not conceptually, even if end-users are offering higher rates for AI.

A poll of 920 contractors and clients shows 75% of contractors will upskill in AI, even though just 49% described themselves as “hopeful” AI will support their role.


End-clients aren’t as “apprehensive” says Hays, which is behind the poll, as 82% said AI would benefit their operations in the next five years.

That represents a growing corporate acceptance of AI, as last year less than two-thirds were positive about AI’s effects, the recruitment agency says.

Pay rates for temporary Artificial Intelligence roles are now being increased, potentially in the hope workers follow end-users in getting behind the new technology.

'Twelve per cent rate uplift on Intelligent Automation roles'

In fact, pay for Intelligent Automation (IA) roles is up by 12% according to Hays’ UK Tech Contractor Day Rate Guide 2024, due to be published today.

Obtained by ContractorUK, the guide shows AI is defying the downward IT pay trend overall, as fewer clients increased rates this year (55%) than last year (61%).

Double-digit premiums on IA roles may convince IT candidates whose rates are static or worse to upskill in AI if their skills are transferable.

'Solving tricky problems'

David Lunn, a PHP contractor whose LinkedIn profile says he “likes solving tricky problems,” may be such a candidate.

“Email alert for PHP contract, for a ‘financial services company’…[states a paltry] £100-£130 a day,” Lunn reflected.

“That’s not even close to market rate which seems to be around £250-£350 a day in my experience.

“There are certainly [PHP] jobs above that…but this one blew me away, especially if it's a financial services client.

“You'd expect them to have a little bit of money to spend -- and have good reasons for wanting to get the best.”

'Eye-watering rates'

IT recruiter Matt Collingwood cautions that even upskilling into the other technology darlings, AR and VR, isn’t going to return mega rates -- at this stage.

He says: “Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are similarly exciting technologies, immersing users in digital or computer-generated experiences.

“They can be applied to various sectors including entertainment, education, healthcare, defence, and manufacturing.

“But do I expect to see eye-watering rates for AR VR software engineers ? No.”

'AI tools'

Yet Collingwood, boss of tech recruiters VIQU, says IT contractors shouldn’t be put off as long as they move now.

“To be a successful contractor you need to be the first -- or be the best. I think those who get in their first will do very well when AR and VR -- like AI -- really takes hold.”

According to the Hays’ Tech Contractor Day Rate Guide 2024, more than one third (35%) of UK organisations are investing in “AI tools.”

An additional 37% of end-clients told the FTSE-listed recruiter that they plan to make such AI tool investments “in the future.”

'Productivity, customer service, revenue streams'

The top reasons organisations said they were investing in AI are to “increase productivity” (36%), “improve customer service” (29%) and “develop new revenue streams” (14%).  

The incentives to invest in AI for corporates being significant appear to contrast with the more ubiquitous advantages of AI which workers are reporting.

In a post enquiring about AI tools of choice, one design contractor said they were “doubtful about [using AI-generated] images for any design work” due to “copyright concerns.”

Another said an AI app was useful for “summarising meeting transcripts and turning them into emails and blog posts.”

'Testing MS Copilot before organisational roll-out'

A separate contractor identified Copilot for Microsoft 365 as their “favourite AI tool,” but then said they were only “testing it in preparation to roll it out across an organisation.”

According to a freelancer who hosts a podcast, AI is useful to create show notes, some transcripts (“it always gets names wrong,”) and other administrative tasks to save time.

But all the contractors added their own little caveats.

For example, AI “doesn’t replace anything”; “human intervention for style and accuracy is still essential,” and AI is only a “starting point” yet even then, “it’s a bit hit and miss.”

'AI upskilling crucial for contractors'

James Hallahan, chief strategy officer at Hays says: “As AI development shows no signs of slowing down, upskilling will be crucial for contractors to remain an asset to organisations and to work alongside AI, to enhance their role and support with their day-to-day responsibilities.

“That being said, both organisations and professionals ought to stay attuned to the risks, as well as the rewards, of AI use.”

In the Hays poll, 49% of IT contractors said they believed AI would positively impact their role in the next five years.

'Artificial Intelligence will negatively impact IT contracting profession'

Fifteen per cent disagreed, saying Artificial Intelligence will have a “negative impact” on IT contracting as a profession.

Hays’ Mr Hallahan said there was “uncertainty” too, as 36% of contractors spoke of being "unsure" about AI’s “long term” impact on their role.

Bobby Armstrong of Firebrand Training (which runs AI training courses) suggests contractors specialising in data protection do have certainty in their roles -- as AI is undoubtedly at loggerheads with the GDPR.

Armstrong points out that under the GDRP, 'data-controllers' (organisations) must get into having to explain how they use personal data in AI systems, where individuals are significantly impacted.

Furthermore, the EU GDPR grants individuals the right not to be subject to decisions stemming only from automated decision-making (or those taken without human intervention).

Armstrong cited some experts saying AI’s complexity, including the challenge of spelling out its decisions, may deter EU firms from using advanced AI systems altogether, over fears of GDPR breaches.

'Attitudes towards AI have shifted'

But this reticence doesn’t show up anywhere in the Hays findings.

By contrast, the poll reveals that “attitudes towards AI have shifted for the better from an organisational perspective,” the recruiter will say today.

Hays will add: “Optimism towards AI amongst organisations is on the rise, [and while] contractors are more apprehensive about the toll AI could take on their jobs in the future… many contractors accept the importance of upskilling in this area in order to keep up with the pace of change, [as shown by the] 75% of contractors [who] plan to upskill in AI in the future.”

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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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