May 23, 2012, 3:42 PM — Even for organizations with a stellar full-time IT staff, situations often arise where temporary outside help is needed. A big Web project might demand a few extra programmers to meet a tough deadline, for example, or a rollout of tools to support a sales force bent on capturing a broader market may require expertise not available in-house.
That's when contractors come in. With job losses and uncertain economic times the new norm, independent contractors are on the rise in the U.S. In 2009, the number of U.S. freelancers in all fields stood at 12 million, according to market research firm IDC. That number is expected to reach 14 million by 2015.
At the same time, companies, including those in IT, are facing new challenges employing independent workers due to federal and state initiatives enacted over the past few years that aggressively pursue "worker misclassification." In the government's eyes, organizations that employ contract workers on a long-term and full-time basis without paying benefits or taxes should, in fact, be classifying those workers as employees -- with all the privileges that status entails.
The result? "Companies are really shying away from the independents," says Cynthia Moore, co-founder of VMS Professionals, an association that discusses best practices for hiring and managing contract workers. Businesses, especially large, conservative enterprises, are now erring on the side of caution and avoiding independent contract hires even for short-term work -- "which is a shame because there are a lot more independents out there who are qualified," she says.
These factors are opening up a highly skilled and work-hungry IT talent pool for small and midsize businesses that need outside contractors on a short-term basis or seek to test talent before they hire full-time.
One obvious way to get short-term help is to contract with a large IT staffing agency, as some companies, particularly larger organizations, do. But it's entirely possible to hire talented contractors on your own. A host of websites help these pros advertise their services, secure paying work and develop ongoing relationships with clients. For employers and business owners, these sites can be excellent sources of high-quality IT talent if you know how and where to look -- and if you're willing to pay fairly for the talent you seek.