Contracting on the up and up for IT staff

IT contracting is on the rise with half of all IT workers in Australia currently employed on a casual basis or on a contractual arrangement.

According to a survey by ICT recruitment firm Candle, 26 percent of all IT staff in Australia were on a contract last year. That figure has now risen to 35 percent. Full-time permanent employment nationally has dropped from around 76 percent to below 54 percent.

Candle managing director Robert Collins said the move to a service-based economy had driven the need for flexible workers who are now more of an integral part of the economy then ever before.

Astonishingly, most IT workers choose not to be on the company's full-time payroll with 71 percent of respondents saying they would take a pay cut in exchange for a more flexible arrangement towards reduced hours.

Roger Brant, IT recruitment team leader at Candle, said it is still hard to find mainframe skilled people under the age of 30. Economic uncertainty has made organizations much less prepared to hire full-time staff favouring contractors, he said.

Ambition IT recruitment consultant Jane Bianchini said people with mainframe skills that were in such high demand before Y2K have either re-skilled, lost their mainframe skills entirely or are now chiefly responsible for the mainframe they rolled out before the millennium.

"The most important thing in 2000 was qualifications, which then led to re-skilling as downsizing occurred. Now we don't find many good mainframe architects at all," she said.

"Most of them have gone into the CRM space tweaking and modifying projects because the large companies want to delight in giving their customers all the attention they crave - and they are paying good money to revamp systems in CRM.

"But as organizations prepare for the next wave of architecture redesign, those with mainframe skills will be in a good position."

Currently, the skills high in demand for IT professionals are Java, Unix or Oracle, according to Peter Butters, Ambit IT&T recruitment national spokesperson.

Butters said while the demand for Java experts has dropped since February 2001 demand for people remains high.

Of all skill sets, Oracle has shown the greatest consistency, according to the latest Jobnet trend series.

Pay disparity and excessive fees

Information and Technology Contract and Recruitment Association (ITCRA) board member and VTR managing director, Vincent Teubler, said there is considerable disparity in contracting rates for the same role in the IT market.

Another problem is the use of contractor management companies and IT recruitment firms which charge excessive fees.

"Contractors are sick and tired of being overcharged by these companies that make a good buck out of someone else's hard work," Teubler said.

"They try to justify their overblown fees by providing an array of services such as professional indemnity insurance or lifestyle services."

In Australia, Teubler said there are about 100,000 IT contractors in the market today.

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