Opportunities “abound” for self-employed IT professionals

Self-employment among Canadian IT professionals is growing, and tech industry observers hail this as a good sign.

“We’re seeing many more IT folk willing to work on a consulting basis,” said Rod Miller, regional vice-president, Robert Half Technology.

“And Canadian firms too are more willing to hire consultants for specific projects. In these uncertain times, it helps them get the work done without increasing their headcount.”

This parallels a phenomenon occurring across various industries in Canada.

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The most recent Labour Force Survey published by Statistics Canada last Friday indicates that across Canada employment grew by 36,000 in April — mainly as a result of an increase in self-employment.

In the IT sector, Miller said, many laid off IT workers are registering with Robert Half Technology as “project professionals.”

These are folk with consulting backgrounds, amenable to working on short- or medium-term projects that “may turn into full time roles or may not.”    

But while a fair amount of contract IT work is available, the compensation for such jobs has decreased, Miller noted.

In that respect, he said, the market has changed a great deal.  

“A year ago, contract hiring was in full spate for many different roles, in many environments. Today, it’s a far more competitive environment.”

That simply means IT professionals seeking contract work need to be more flexible, market themselves more effectively, and be ready to compromise a bit, Miller said.

That may take the form of accepting a rate cut or something else.

“Be prepared to do that,” he said. “As an IT professional, it’s better to be working right now, because you can continue to build your experience, and network, and position yourself to be taken on full time should the contract role become a permanent one.”

Hot skills that could get you a job

In terms of regular IT work, he said, there are jobs and roles for which hiring continues to be done.

These range from more generic ones – such as help desk and desktop support – to specialized positions.

“We’re seeing a demand for dot-Net developers, people with Web 2.0 application development experience, or those with network and sys admin expertise – these areas continue to do well.”

With IT security budgets increasing, the need for people with information security (IS) skills is also likely to grow.

Forty-two per cent of the organizations polled in a recent global survey by Sherborn, Mass.-based research firm, GMG Insights, anticipate increasing their IT security budget.

The CA-sponsored survey covered 400 mid-sized and larger companies in North America, Asia Pacific, and South America.

Interestingly, most firms polled (67 per cent of mid-market companies and 73 per cent of enterprise organizations) say that layoffs have increased the threat to IT systems.

Firms will respond by adopting technologies in areas such as data loss/leak prevention, user management and provisioning, single sign-on, role management, log management, and Web access management, the report says. This, it says, is happening despite the ever-present IT mandate to “do more with less.”  

Information security investment was also the cited as a leading area of tech investment by CIOs in another recent survey.

The survey was developed by Robert Half Technology and conducted by an independent research firm. It was based on telephone interviews with 1,400 CIOs from companies across the U.S. with 100 or more employees.

IS was the most oft cited (43 per cent) area of investment by those polled. Other key areas were virtualization (28 percent) and data center efficiency (27 percent).

In Canada, as elsewhere, heightened security investment, in turn, is likely to intensify the clamour for IS professionals to manage these systems.

In Eastern Canada, “security specialists” is already one of the “in demand” skills according to a blog post by Kevin Dee, CEO of Eagle Professional Resources Inc.

Eagle is an Ottawa-based technology staffing firm with offices in 10 cities across Canada.

Other “hot skills” in that region include Oracle Functional, Business Intelligence, and Data Migration, as well as Security Specialists along with Tech Support and Help Desk positions.

Hiring is happening … where?

Government is one sector where a fair amount of tech hiring is happening, said Robert Half Technology’s Miller. The recently announced infrastructure stimulus investments are fuelling this trend, he said.

Higher education is another “IT jobs growth” area.

There’s an influx of applicants to many larger educational institutions – tech colleges, universities, community colleges and such, he noted.  “The infrastructure in these institutions needs to be scaled and updated, so we’re seeing opportunity there too.”  

A third area of hiring activity, Miller said, is the food services and wholesaling industries.   

And apart from these sectors, he said, there’s reason to believe the overall situation for IT professionals will improve.

He noted that in challenging times like we’re experiencing today, companies look for ways to become more cost effective, and slashing budgets is not the only option they pursue to achieve that goal.

“The bigger and more effective strategy is trying to boost productivity, and technology plays a big role in that.”

In this environment, he said, IT professionals who can demonstrate to hiring managers the value they provided previous employers would have a definite advantage.

He highly recommends that job candidates go to interviews equipped with anecdotes of specific things they did in a previous IT roles or jobs that heightened productivity and efficiency, saved costs, or produced any other tangible business benefits.

“A mini case study of this sort would be invaluable.”

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