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How the Tech Contract Recruitment market has changed

It’s been more than 2 months since the UK went into COVID-19 lockdown and one of the questions that I am asked regularly is: “How has the tech contract recruitment market changed?”

I recruited contractors for the web industry after the dot-com bubble burst & following the Financial Crisis. Whilst there are significant key differences between those events and the current pandemic – I have seen some familiar trends emerging, in the UK’s tech & web design contract market.

More Applicants

Seems an obvious one, but I have received over 150 high-quality applications for a recently advertised UX/UI contract role. 12 months ago that would have been a maximum of around 30. A fivefold increase in applicants.

High quality CVs

Another symptom of the current market is that the quality of the CVs for available contractors is significantly higher. Some excellent contractors have suddenly found themselves on the market. There is no reason for them to be available, other than the pandemic. Their managers, having done all they can to keep them, become resigned to the fact they are leaving and provide them with a detailed & glowing reference.

Lower Rates

Contractors are usually business savvy individuals and they know that cost is an important part of the supply and demand-led contract market. I have spoken to individuals who were on £500 p/day in December 2019, that say they would currently consider roles from £150 p/day. Huge reductions like that devalue the service and could potentially drive down rates for everybody. However, some believe that it’s better to be earning than not and don’t want to get caught in a trap of being out of contract for many months. If you are a contractor that is considering a large rate reduction, it is probably worth assessing the potential non-monetary benefits from the role such as: training, tech, project, job satisfaction, social purpose etc.

Shorter Contracts

The visible window in terms of business planning has narrowed significantly as a result of COVID-19. It is very difficult for companies to commit to things currently and that is reflected in contract length. The old adage that “your contract is only as long as your notice period” may have never been truer and we have seen a reduction in the average notice period to 1 week (from 2). We have seen an increased demand for 1 to 2 week initial contracts – many involving trial or assessment periods.

Part-Time

As many permanent staff are currently working reduced hours or are furloughed, a number of our Clients have been offering 3 or 4 days per week to new contractors.

Specific Experience

Because clients and recruiters are receiving more CVs, there are usually a number of applicants that meet the basic requirements of the role. As such, those with the exact technical and/or industry experienced tend to be more likely to go through to the interview stage of the recruitment process. Whilst the temptation might be to apply for everything, it might be worth focussing efforts on roles that are very strong matches to skills and background.

Tougher Sign Off

A large number of UK businesses are looking to control or reduce spend and this makes getting contracts signed off more difficult. If a company has furloughed staff and/or is making redundancies, decisions to bring in contractors will typically need to be made at a very senior level.

Contract Recovery before Perm

Whilst it is true that the contract sign off process has tightened, it may be easier for companies to approve a 3-month contract than a permanent role. This trend could continue throughout the rest of 2020, as businesses get projects moving but are not confident enough to return to permanent hiring. This was also the general pattern that I noticed during the recovery that followed the Financial Crisis.

Products

Many companies are taking an opportunity, to create new products and services that are particularly useful in the current circumstances. These businesses will experience rapid growth and often develop a need for contractors. Some of these products are already in existence but are experiencing increased demand, others may not even be conceptualised yet but will emerge over the next couple of years. Outside of this type of innovation, there is also likely to be a further large-scale progression of the Digital Transformation Programmes already underway. Those that do not have an online offering, may find that they are now forced to go digital, to survive in the post-pandemic UK.