Drift to contracting is impacting skill levels

A move to freelance status gives short term financial gain, but reduces knowledge levels long term.

The growing drift of IT professionals leaving full-time jobs to become contractors is making an already severe skills shortage worse, warns education sector supplier RM.

RM says that, according to its latest research, 44 per cent of IT workers are considering leaving full-time employment to become contractors.

It believes this should ring loud alarm bells across the industry, with the short supply of IT skills showing no sign of abating.

"Many British businesses are already struggling because of the skills shortage," said Billy McNeil, development director at RM. "If almost half of IT workers do end up leaving full-time employment to become contractors, this will only exacerbate the problem. While contractors can bring flexibility benefits to organisations, they do not benefit themselves from the training investment organisations make."

He said that one in four ICT recruiters is having difficulty attracting applicants with the right skills, qualifications and experience.

"Project management and programming languages such as C variants, Java and XML are often cited as the skills in shortest supply, and training is often required to help employees build up these skills," he said.

McNeil said that contractors need to constantly update their skills, but are unable to offset any training costs against their income. This means, he warns, that while they may benefit financially in the short-term through contractor status, they do not feature as an important member of an organization and risk missing out on opportunities to maintain and learn new skills.

John Colley, director of IT certification body (ISC)2, confirms that the level of experience in the IT profession is dropping.

"The industry is maturing," he said. "But although this might lead you to expect skill levels to be on the rise, they are not. Demand for expertise is expanding, but there's just not enough to go around. The only answer is to invest more in training."

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