Few tears shed for contractors

Struggling IT contractors will find little sympathy among IT bosses who remember their Y2K antics.

Struggling IT contractors will find little sympathy among IT bosses who remember their Y2K antics.

IT contractors seem to have short memories. Last week the Professional Contractor's Group, which represents many IT contractors and freelance workers, again protested against the Government's fast-track visa system that facilitates foreign IT workers' entry into the UK jobs market.

This initiative was set up by the Government after consulting the IT industry on possible solutions to the long-term shortage of IT skills. IT contractors now argue that the wrong skills are being targeted by the Government and that the influx of foreign IT workers is making it difficult for many IT contractors to find work.

Well, a sarcastic boo-hoo may be the best IT contractors will get from IT managers and directors. If the freelancers' memories stretched back just a couple of years they would remember how astronomical hourly rates created a massive escalation of the cost of year 2000 work. They might also remember that during the dotcom boom businesses were similarly ripped off by contractors, many of whom did not have the skills their fees suggested.

Although there were many IT contractors who built up trust with their clients over a period of years, there were also many who could blag their way into work they were unable to do properly, knowing that short-term contracts would absolve them of any long-term accountability.

Such fees and the abundance of work meant that IT contractors were often able to live a lifestyle more fitting for a Premiership footballer than a database administrator. Contractors were often more concerned about their next Porsche than giving quality and value to their clients.

Well it seems that the chickens have come home to roost. By escalating IT contract rates to such a degree, many businesses felt justifiably aggrieved and naturally sought value-for-money IT skills wherever they could. The Government's relaxation of working visa rules gave them such an opportunity.

That this has coincided with a slowdown in IT activity generally may be unfortunate for some IT contractors, but it does not make them the victims here. If they had approached the boom years with more maturity and professionalism, showing some commitment and loyalty to their employers, then they would be entitled to expect a little back. After all, most employers of freelancers are usually happier to go with what they know rather than take a leap of faith with untested workers.

Contractor lobbyists have also argued that sourcing IT skills from abroad will, in the long-term, damage the UK's technology skills base. In reply, we should point out that by going freelance contractors took responsibility for their own skills - if they are up-to-date and in-demand there should be no problem finding work.

Alternatively, instead of crying out in protest to the Government, it might be better for IT contractors to swallow their pride, sell their fast cars and get full-time jobs where they are accountable and provide good value for money.
This was last published in August 2002

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