I have considered training courses but there is no substitute for hands-on experience. I would consider going permanent again but appear to be treated with some scepticism because I have been a contractor. What would you advise?
The solution: In this market, look to core skills
Unfortunately, you are in a similar position to many other IT professionals at the moment, both permanent and contract. It is estimated that between 30% and 50% of contractors are currently out of work, so it is no surprise that you have struggled to find a new contract. However, you obviously have a good level of experience and are flexible - key attributes in this tough market.
If you have limited Oracle and Unix experience, it will make it extremely hard for you to secure permanent or contract work using these skills, as any company will be able to recruit more experienced IT professionals. Additionally, contractors are rarely trained by their client, even in better market conditions. Thus, in the short term you will need to consider any work that utilises your technical strengths.
The market will pick up over the next year, based on a slowly improving economy and firms releasing project funds, which will create more opportunities.
Ensure that your CV is up to scratch and that you register with the leading recruitment Web sites and a few, select agencies. I recommend talking to all the companies that you have contracted with over the past four years and seeing whether they will look at taking you on permanently, especially where they use Oracle and Unix technologies.
It will help if you invest in your own training, to demonstrate your commitment, though I appreciate that this is expensive and there are no guarantees. Additionally, approach companies that use your core skills and that are moving to an Oracle/Unix platform - you can be of real value to these organisations.