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How contracting is closing the IT skills gap

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Trueffelpix)

It is no secret that the UK is in the midst of an IT skills gap crisis. The lack of qualified IT professionals leaving our schools and universities is exasperating this problem, meaning the gap risks becoming a chasm in the next few years. Contractors are currently filling in some of the hole and are, in many ways, significantly contributing to reducing the IT skills gap. IT contractors offer a range of expertise and flexibly that is vital to the UK IT sector and wider economy. They offer both short-term solutions for business and longer-term solutions to the UK’s deepening IT skills gap problem. Here, we look at some of the reasons why this is the case.

Short term solutions for businesses

Contracting has a great advantage over full-time employees for businesses in that it allows companies to over-come barriers to growth quickly. This is especially prevalent for SMEs who simply do not have the capital or time to hire in teams of IT professionals on a full-time basis. Handing over this crucial section of the business to external professionals allows companies to grow faster and for contractors to hone skills that can be transferred to other jobs.

Having developed skills, another short-term benefit of contracting is that these skills can then be applied to new, challenging scenarios. Due to the fact that contractors move from job contract to job contract and work on a variety of projects, they learn a number of skills that can be applied to new issues facing a wide range of companies. In this way, more solutions are brought to companies and any internal skills gaps start to close, as more people are able to solve the IT problems facing companies.

Start-ups have their own unique set of challenges. Lack of money, often inexperienced in hiring, and missing specific expertise to help grow their business, contractors are often an ideal solution. Not only does hiring contractors give start-ups instant access to essential skills, it is also a great way of getting quick results for problems. Further, it also provides flexibility to suit the ever-changing nature that comes with being a start-up.

Start-ups look for fast tech solutions, as they are more often than not small, lean and operating in a fast-paced environment. Being able to access high quality tech support and expertise is key to helping these companies succeed. Equally, larger companies increasingly need access to these specialised skills for high profile projects; resulting in high demand for experts in emerging technologies such as AI and blockchain - areas that contractors can fill.

In the short term, using contractors enables permanent staff to concentrate on the core business. It also means that start-ups have no PAYE or National Insurance contributions administration, which can potentially offset the rates of contractors. The flexibility and expertise that using contractors offers companies makes them very attractive options. It also offers contractors exposure to a wide range of experiences ensuring that they gain a broad range of skills and expertise from each project. This expertise and the need to keep ahead of the technological curve demonstrates how contractors are helping to close the IT skills gap here in the UK.

Long term benefits for the country

Having wider knowledge of different specialisations within the IT industry can only contribute to reducing the IT skills gap in the UK. Having a more talented pool of people with a greater number of specialisations in the tech workforce helps businesses solve their problems faster and more efficiently. It is important that the UK government makes it easier for contractors to work and continues to increase their skillset in order to be able to help fill in the IT skills gap.

Additionally, the opportunity to take on contracts abroad exposes contractors to different methods of working, as well as different technology infrastructures and systems that they may not experience in the UK. By bringing this expertise back to the UK, contractors help the transmission of ideas and methods that can directly help upskill IT projects here. It’s for this reason why contractors are often a crucial part of any business team, given the amount of technical skills and knowledge they bring back from multiple client environments. Exposure to all of these different environments means greater knowledge and experience.

The contracting industry as a whole historically also has a greater earning potential than those employed full time. This means more talented staff may look to go into contracting because of the increased earning potential with their skills which, in turn, will increase the number of talented IT professionals in the marketplace. By attracting more people to the IT industry with very competitive earning potential through contracting, more talented individuals are likely to consider a career in the IT sector, thereby contributing to closing the UK’s skills gap whilst building the IT skill set availability.

IT contractors frequently move from one project to another either in large organisations or start-ups. This means they are able to bring different sorts of skills to each new situation they enter. Added to this, contractors are very aware of emerging technologies that will be popular in the future; as they must be ahead of the game or risk being unemployed. As such, they are often ahead of the curve when it comes to working with new technologies – something which can be invaluable to high risk projects.

Contractors are also specialists in their areas making them vital experts on projects and in the UK economy. Supporting and executing on similar deployments across a range of companies ensures they become leading experts. Thanks to this, contractors tend to be faster and more efficient than employed workers. In the UK, every hour, one new technology start-up is established, and they could benefit significantly from a pool of agile, flexible tech talent.

With the complex and new challenges that technology companies face, the diverse knowledge that contractors have developed through working on different projects is essential to help reduce the learning curve for start-ups.  The quicker investment funds in start ups can be spent to deliver live products, the greater chance of success and growth of the digital economy.

It is vital that we encourage more talented people towards the IT industry to ultimately close the skills gap and help fuel the digital UK economic growth. In the wider context of the UK economy, contractors are closing the skills gap, whether they know it or not. Bringing skills from abroad and from multiple projects, contractors are able to tackle new challenges and provide a flexible and agile workforce. Further, with the earning potential that contracts can offer, this has the ability to attract the brightest and best to the industry.

Anthony Sherick, Director, ContractorUK
Image source: Shutterstock/Trueffelpix