Career Watch: The growth of consulting

Q&A: Peter Cannone

The CEO of OnForce on the technology consulting workforce.

Is the IT contracting workforce growing? Business growth uncertainty has greatly accelerated companies' use of the IT contract workforce, and we expect this trend to continue. A recent study by MBO Partners forecasts that independent workers will account for more than 50% of the workforce by 2020. At OnForce, we see about 700 applications from service techs each month -- and this is purely from word of mouth, no advertising.

When the recession hit, many companies had to lay off staff, and those that held on to idle employees racked up significant losses. The memories are vivid and personal. Now these companies have low confidence in their ability to predict what the future holds. As a result, independent workers and small IT companies have become a key part of how work gets done, greatly increasing the demand for (and number of) IT contractors.

Is the economy behind the growth, or is it something else? The economy definitely drove the initial shift toward independent contractors, but tech innovation has taken the driver's seat at this point.

Service companies are taking on new types of work, such as mobile devices and networks, and they're using contractors to get it done. Companies can maintain a larger pool of technicians, tapping specialized experts for whatever key skills are needed for today's project, rather than relying on employee generalists.

What sort of IT professional is best suited for life as a contractor -- that is, which skills are in demand, and what personality adapts well to the contracting life? For some, becoming an independent contractor is looking like a better choice all the time. There are three key factors for this: desire for independence, erosion of the employee value proposition (e.g., lack of job security, disappearing pensions, threatened healthcare coverage) and the rapid pace of technological change.

In fact, one of our most recent surveys with our community of independent contractors uncovered that 60% of them willingly joined the independent workforce, and 56% wouldn't consider working for someone else, even if the salary and benefits were comparable.

Every prospective independent contractor needs to be honest with himself about whether he has the necessary technical know-how. He also needs to be up for the challenges of finding work and making sure he gets paid in a timely way for the work he has completed.

In addition, independent contractors need top-notch listening and problem-solving skills, as well as a true passion for what they do. The job involves dealing with new tasks, a wide variety of customer demands and unexpected problems daily. Contractors have to be up for anything to build a successful business.

Perhaps even more challenging is keeping pace with technology. Independent contractors have to supplement existing skills with new ones on a regular basis -- and to stay focused and current, they really have to love what they do.

The Value of Haggling

Most IT professionals are not in the habit of negotiating salary when accepting a new job offer, according to Dice.com. In the April issue of the Dice Report, Tom Silver, senior vice president at the job site, said that most of the 838 hiring managers and recruiters that Dice asked about this said most tech professionals accept the first offer, with no haggling. Silver noted that when the hiring managers and recruiters were asked how much they increased the salary offer, on average, when a job candidate negotiated, the most common response was 5%. That, he calculated, adds up to over $4,000 for an IT pro making the average U.S. salary.

The Chances of Hearing 'No'

When a job candidate asks to negotiate salary, how often, on average, does your company (or one of your client companies) increase the offer?Very frequently: 6%Frequently: 27%Occasionally: 49%Rarely: 11%Very rarely: 6%Never: 1%

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This story, "Career Watch: The growth of consulting" was originally published by Computerworld.

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