ContractorUK readers have their say on 2009

Only if the ongoing drive towards outsourcing has sent them to Siberia will 'downturn' and 'recession' not be on the lips of British IT contractors who endured 2009.

'Depression' was also often cited in the annual Readers' Awards of ContractorUK, the IT contractors' portal, when users were asked to name the biggest obstacle to contracting in 2009.

But interestingly, contractors volunteered the d-word only in reference to the market or the economy, not their state of mind, which overwhelmingly emerged as positive and forward-thinking.

This clean bill of clinical health for contract IT staff, coupled with the poll findings and their comments, appears to cast many CUK readers as shrewd survivalists, in spite of many suffering rate cuts.

As while 'the economy' easily won the award for the "biggest hindrance" to IT contractors, more than 75% of them said they invoiced for at least three of the year's four quarters.

Moreover, more than a third of all the contractors who nominated said they were not personally affected by the recession, suggesting that their downtime in 2009 was negligible.

These contractors put their enviable position down to having the 'right clients' who continued to hire them throughout the year, or because their skills remained 'hot.'

Contractors who said they hadn't noticed any dip in demand tended to supply specialist IT skills, while others were technologists with strong business experience.

They included contractors providing business analysis/intelligence; compliance, risk, efficiency and project planning, security, and identity/access management services.

The technical skills appearing farthest from the bench included .NET; C#, C++, Java, SQL, Linux, Cognos, Sybase, Oracle, networking and testing, the readers' poll shows.

But whether CUK contractors found 2009 difficult – 14 per cent only billed for half of the year - or not, a majority have had to travel further afield to find roles.

Typically, this means contractors have taken longer journeys inside the UK, but some contractors moved abroad, including one lured by stronger demand for SAP in the Netherlands.

When they couldn't find work, the priorities of CUK contractors were varied: financial planning, training, holidays and Plan Bs – including non-IT ones, the poll shows.

So in 2009, IT contractors tried their hand at journalism, publishing and digital media. Others, probably with war-chests, took cruises, trimmed the garden or went fishing.

These contractors are amongst those that make up the 11 per cent of the total respondents who say they only submitted invoices for just one of the year's four quarters.

However of those who had their IT contracts cut short in 2009, some contractors claimed the experience has made them better at selling their services.

One wrote: "I had to start applying for jobs via advertisements rather than referrals and speaking to agents which I found difficult at first.

"[But] it has really helped me rebuild confidence to job hunt and sell myself and skills to agents, and I feel much less intimidated by the whole process".

CUK's poll also reveals that a few contractors chose a different career direction after being let go, seemingly to feel more satisfied, in spite of well-paid opportunities being available.

"I've been spending time writing for professional magazines and learning new skills," one IT freelancer said, "rather than being tempted to take crap roles for good money."

While that contractor thought IT work should be made more interesting, a higher proportion of CUK contractors want a new government, the abolition of IR35, or reform to the intra company transfer system.

Fears that this year will be the 'The Recession Part 2' point to the contractors' biggest wish for 2010 - that business confidence returns so spending on IT recovers.

Others said they just wanted the knock-on effects of the recession, such as client cutbacks, higher candidate availability and increased outsourcing, to go away.

But the contractor sample voiced some age-old concerns as well, most notably retrospective tax clampdowns by HMRC, and the underhand tactics of some recruitment agents.

These rogue agencies operate in direct contrast to Elan, Spring, Lorien, Reed and Harvey Nash, which each won praise from CUK's readers.

However, Computer People was the overall winner of the "best IT contractor recruitment agency" category for 2009, narrowly beating Hays IT into second place.

By a greater margin, the readers of CUK awarded the title of "best IT contractor job board" to Jobserve, followed in order by Jobsite, Technojobs and CWJobs.

The best end user to supply, according to CUK's poll, is the Royal Bank of Scotland, which beat off competition from HSBC, Barclays and, in the public sector, the NHS.

In the category of best umbrella company, Giant group received more votes than any of the others, which included Contractor Umbrella, in 2nd place, and Parasol, in 3rd place.

SJD Accountancy was voted the best accountant for IT contractors, effectively retaining its award for the fourth year in a row, seeing off a newcomer to the awards AccountsNet.

Accepting the title, founder of SJD Simon Dolan said: "Once again I am so grateful to our clients who took the time to vote for us in what is our favourite award to receive."

Other established accountancy firms commended by CUK readers included PlanIT, Nixon Williams and Brookson.

On the lighter side of IT contracting ,'Test Please Delete' won the award for CUK's "most entertaining forum thread", and "forum personality of the year" went to 'Malvolio.'

"Delighted, if also amazed, that CUK's readers think my

posts are actually worth something," he said last night. "I promise to keep up the good work."

Writing in the comments section of the readers' awards form, another IT contractor did his bit to cheer up CUK.

The portal reflected: "One of our readers said he foresaw work permits being available in cornflake packets . Which, bearing in mind how poorly devised the current system is, the government might not think is such a bad idea."

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