The end of work as we know it

By John Kador, InfoWorld |  Career

As a result of legal actions and pressure from unions, Microsoft in February cut
back on the use of contract workers and now places limits on their tenure with the
company. Nevertheless, the practice of using contingent workers has been so widespread
at Microsoft that conttingent workers there have successfully lobbied for benefits
traditionally reserved for full-time workers.

The anti-temp forces

As the contingent labor pool has grown, so too has the surrounding controversy.
Some opponents lament the end of corporate paternalism toward the worker, arguing that
companies turn temps into commodities to be discarded when their skills are no longer
needed.

Others argue that companies fill jobs with temps, who are purported to be the least
powerful and lowest paid of all employees. In other words, the workers most likely to
be forced to accept temporary work are the ones least able to afford periods of
unemployment between assignments. Opponents say companies offer more incentives to
regular workers who have skills essential to meeting customer demands and which are not
readily available in the open market.

Some call this practice exploitation. Others, including members of the contingent
IT workforce, simply call it yesterday's economy. Combine the current hourly wages for
contractors with the power and desired skill sets that tech talent possesses, and does
the exploitation argument hold water?

Increasing numbers

It might be a stretch to believe that the growth in the contingent technical
workforce is due to an easy exploitation of that talent. Recruiting and signing on
technical temporary staffers can be as difficult as recruiting full-time IT
professionals.

Given demand for skilled IT workers, many techies prefer the flexibility and high
fees that an alternative work arrangement can bring. There seems to be little, if any,
immediate slowing in the growth of the contingent workforce, industry observers say. In
a survey conducted by Net-Temps, 96.5 percent of surveyed contractors said that they
intend to continue working as contractors for as long as they are able.

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