Contractors 'pick and choose' public sector IT

With a general election looming, IT projects in the public sector are set to take a step up this year - making public sector projects an appealing option for contractors. Here, Parity, the IT recruitment specialist, takes a look at the impact this will have on the contractor market and offers tips and advice for contractors on how to reap the benefits.

2005: a year for growth in the IT contract market

Parity saw the IT contractor market grow by 30% in 2004 and a 50% increase in requirements in January alone this year. While we expect to see similar growth throughout the year across the board, notably in the financial and telecoms sectors, high profile government projects such as the National Programme for IT, will cause demand in the public sector to rocket.

While general elections have historically slowed progression of IT projects, the imminence of a general election this year is actually fuelling an increase in demand for IT contractors in the public sector. This is because projects currently in the pipeline are on such a large scale that pressure is mounting to prove that progress is being made and results being delivered to the right time scales.

Demand in the public sector IT contracting market is also being affected by government reviews such as the Gershon report and the Lyons review. The former is helping to drive demand for IT contractors as government departments strive to meet efficiency targets by implementing new and improved IT systems; and the latter is helping to disperse the contractor market across the UK instead of being concentrated in and around London.

Soft skills: the key to maintaining a contractor-centric market

As pressure mounts for public sector organisations to increase their efficiency, it is starting to show increasing demand for commercially minded individuals. Contractors with private sector experience and a balance of technological and softer management skills are those that fit the bill. With large corporations bringing in their best salesmen, the ability to negotiate and ensure mutually beneficial partnerships is crucial for public sector contractors. As a result, to complement architecture, telecoms and tech skills such as information security and testing, government departments and local government authorities are increasingly looking for procurement expertise and project management skills.

The large-scale projects associated with the public sector provide the perfect opportunity to develop and put your commercial skills to the test, at the same time as working with leading edge technology that will help to revolutionise an organisation, or even society at large. What's more, with demand so high, public sector organisations recognise that the days when contractors would seek any port in a storm are gone, and have had to change their attitude.

The market is now contractor-centric which means you can pick and choose the projects you want to work on. To embrace this, public sector organisations are increasingly offering a much more flexible and attractive package, with the opportunity to get involved in high profile projects at a level that will help to enhance contractors' CVs and future career prospects.

From technical wizard to strategic player: the changing role of the IT contractor

It's a long time since IT contractors have been seen as a necessary evil. They are increasingly viewed as a valuable addition to in-house skills. Gone are the days when contractors could sit in their corner, isolated from the rest of the organisation and be left to implement intricate IT systems and technology for technology's sake.

Successful contractors are those who interact with key players in the organisation so that they can elicit its commercial requirements and deliver solutions to match those needs. In this way, contractors can help to drive business forward strategically as well as technologically. This kind of input requires a business savvy IT contractor that can bring not only project management, negotiation and procurement skills, but also a fresh, commercial approach to public sector organisations.

Changing incentives: contract vs permanent, public vs private

Contractors can enjoy daily rates that are up to 60 per cent higher than the equivalent paid to project managers in a permanent position. However, they have traditionally had to sacrifice the benefits associated with permanent positions in the public sector - job security, flexible working hours and final salary pension schemes amongst others. Nevertheless, as the public sector becomes more commercial and aligns itself more closely with the private sector, these benefits are beginning to be relinquished – taking the perks out of permanent positions and making contracting all the more appealing.

Although the public sector cannot match the private sector in terms of rates paid, government departments, organisations, and local government authorities are still attractive employers for IT contractors.

While private sector organisations, particularly in the financial sector, have traditionally been a much more lucrative option, the public sector has recently stepped up to closely match these sectors – thanks to the mounting pressure to progress with high profile projects such as the National Programme for IT.

What's more, the public sector can provide the perfect working environment for contractors driven by the desire to work on large-scale projects that will have a real impact on the society we live in. Likewise, those who value flexibility and diversity in their work will thrive in this sector.

With a year of such change taking place in the public sector, it's never been a better time for contractors to provide the flexibility and knowledge that are key to the success of the huge IT projects behind this change.

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