IT contractors warned on inert skills

Hundreds of IT contractors with an online presence are not maximising their pay or their ability to work elsewhere by failing to update their skills often enough.

Having polled a 550-strong 'global' IT contractor group online, Jenrick IT found that more than one third of respondents clearly neglected their skills and accreditations.

These contractors forgo their true earnings potential but, more critically in the current climate, they are also "limiting their opportunities" in the future, the recruiter said.

This barrier poses them a challenge if, like "many" contractors today, they want to exit the public sector, where budget cuts have made IT roles uncertain, said Parity.

Managing director Alan Rommel says only those public sector IT contractors "with highly demanded skills will be able to make the transition" to the private sector easily.

Moving from public to private might also be tough if contractors rely only on referrals and recommendations - "the contractor market of the past" - to secure their future.

"Contractors need to be aware of the external environment in which they operate" today, added Jenrick's managing director Philip Fanthom.

"More and more clients are seeking skill validation, in the form of external recognition through accreditations, as a core part of their initial screening process."

But he sounded unsurprised that investing in training and skills was overlooked by more than 33% of the contractor sample, who worked in a range of IT roles and industries.

"It is very easy for contractors to get 'sucked in' to the environments in which they operate...[often] due to the intensity of the projects they are involved in.

"This often means that self-development, in terms of skill enhancement and the gaining of accreditations, is often neglected."

Presented with the findings, Hays IT recommended that technical professionals should be upgrading their skills regularly, ideally on weekly or monthly basis.

Other IT-business professionals, including generalist contractors, were advised to conduct a similar review of their skills, and potentially update them, every six months.

During such a self-evaluation, IT contractors should look to reshape generic skills into niche technical or functional areas, tipped Hays IT's public sector director Joel Armitt.

Yet for some contractors, argued Rommel, by virtue of their primary skill they will land at different outfits, in different sectors, making "always learning" the norm.

Even IT workers facing the axe in the public sector shouldn't think budget constraints prevent them from picking up new technologies.

"Public sector end-users may offer retraining or a skills upgrade as a part of a redundancy package," said Bernie Potton, founder of IT staffing firm SQ Computer Personnel.

"So IT workers should take advantage of all the training and development the public sector might offer, if they want the best opportunity to find work elsewhere."

If it is still inside the sector, the contract IT work most visible elsewhere is at local government bodies, education, housing and health providers, said Hays IT.

However, as central government's intake of IT staff is being "severely affected" by budget cuts, a growing number of IT workers are moving towards the private sector, the recruiter confirmed.

"[This is] due to job insecurity, but public sector employers are now finding it hard to replace these skills due to the intensity of negative press regarding future budget cuts.

"This situation has emphasised skill shortages," Armitt said, "so there are still opportunities in the public sector for IT contractors to plug these gaps."

By contrast, the least 'market-ready' IT contractors are those who need to up-skill or broaden their services if their skills are in decline or growing in availability, according to Rommel.

And addressing contractors directly, Fanthom reminded: "The product (i.e. your current core programming discipline) that is your current best-seller, may not be in three, five or 10 months.

"As a contractor you are running a business and as such you need to consider how future market trends will impact upon your business success."

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