April 05, 2010, 3:59 PM — Pete Miller Jr. wanted to find work quickly after getting laid off in January. So instead of chasing elusive staff positions, he became a worker for hire.
On the upside, he's working. But he's not getting the full-time hours -- or the salary -- that he once did.
"Business is coming in, but it's slow," says Miller, who specializes in office printer repairs. "I think I'll have more business as time goes on, but I'll have to see. That's the hard part to determine: When more business will arrive and by how much."
IT professionals, like people everywhere, are feeling the economic pain. Salaries across the IT sector are flat, and new job openings aren't plentiful. But IT contractors -- that is, those brought in for short-term projects or to fill a particular skill gap -- are experiencing the economic downturn more acutely than staff workers. According to Computerworld's 2010 Salary Survey, average compensation for contractors and consultants is down 3.3%, while average compensation among all levels of IT staffers has held steady.
The compensation disparity stems from the poor economy, contractors and IT employment experts say. It also highlights the riskier nature of contract work, where pay and employment can be hit or miss even in good economic times and contractors have to market their services and handle accounting, billing and other administrative tasks in addition to doing the job they're hired to do. It's a big task that's even tougher in this economy.
"This happens to be a buyers market again, and you have to be a self-directed person to do this very successfully and thrive," says Johanna Rothman, president of Rothman Consulting Group Inc. in Arlington, Mass., and the author of Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People. (Read about how to recharge your IT career with contracting.)
Alan Stevenson Jr., a senior staffing consultant at TreeTop Technologies Inc., a Newton, Mass.-based IT staff augmentation firm, says the recession hit contractors particularly hard from the start.
"The first thing that went in terms of budget was project-based work, and that's where you have a lot of contractors," he says.