As Britain emerges from its Covid-19 lockdown and into the “new normal”, business will become increasingly reliant on technology, boosting demand for IT contractors, the chief executive of a major recruitment professional body has predicted.
Talking to website ContractorUK.com, Ann Swain, chief executive at the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), pointed to elevated demand for IT staff at the start of the lockdown in March as an indicator that the unprecedented changes to the way firms are having to operate due to the pandemic will result in a surge in demand for freelance IT staff as the country comes out of lockdown.
In March, APSCo’s London vacancy tracker showed IT was the “dominant area” during the first weeks of the lockdown, said Ms Swain. “Anecdotal evidence from members suggests that this was due to the massive increase in [the] use of platforms which need constant security updates, capacity and increased functionality.
“This covers everything from video conferencing from organisations like Zoom and Microsoft Teams through to online shopping sites,” she said. “[It also covers the many coronavirus-related] massive new government projects such as the portals for claiming furlough payments and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.”
However, APSCo said the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has had an “adverse effect” on the recruitment sector. Before the pandemic, the rolling five-day average of vacancies across all ten tracked sectors in London was typically between 1,000 and 2,000 per day – that fell to a low of 335 when the CJRS was brought in in week one of the lockdown. In the second week of lockdown, volumes were nine per cent lower.
“We did see a dip in roles during the first four weeks of lockdown,” said David Taylor, managing director of First Point Group in London.
“However [demand in IT] is now rising, as it is possible for contractors to be more mobile and start new roles, plus remote on-boarding – and working, is becoming more the norm.”
To further illustrate this, the job role experiencing the largest surge in demand according to APSCo’s job index, which covers ten sectors, was “software engineer”, with a rolling five-day average of 570 new vacancies per day. The next five most in-demand job roles were all also in IT: IT manager, IT infrastructure, IT specialist, IT analyst and IT support.
“By professional job function IT remains the dominant area of [all agency] hiring, accounting for thirty-five per cent of all vacancies over the period since the shutdown,” said a note on APSCo’s tracker. “For context, normally in any given week it would be, at most, fifteen per cent.”
Ms Swain found the increased demand for IT amid the pandemic unsurprising: “Cyber security is a big boom area particularly with people working from home.
“There are also businesses switching their business models – take events and exhibitions for example, which are all moving to online platforms.
“But as we come out of lockdown, members are expecting tech contractor demand to increase further.
“If you are a business that has survived then you are going to be thinking about accelerating everything you had been thinking of before – automation; ending your high street presence or rationalising office space and working more remotely,” she said. “All those trends will accelerate – and all involve technology.”
Mr Taylor agrees, however he is predicting a rate squeeze as firms try to reduce operating costs during the inevitable recession that will follow the lockdown: “[the] ICT recruitment sector has been pretty resilient on the whole … however [I believe] that there will be a greater focus from clients on costs, salaries and rates for the next six to twelve months as we enter, and come out of, what we all hope will be a V-shaped recession,” he said.
11th June 2020.