Freelancers skilled in Digital and Cyber Security unlikely to notice tech vacancy dip

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A dwindling amount of IT freelancer vacancies in July 2023 isn’t dulling still-sharp appetite for niche computer contractors, like those specialising in Digital and Cyber Security.

Nor have these fewer openings ended the “deficit” that exists overall in the UK’s computer staff market, even if applicant per freelance contract is rising in IT, unlike in Engineering.

The Association of Professional Staffing Companies, whose members place droves of freelance technologists across the UK, made these disclosures exclusively to Free-Work.

‘Summer months’

In its statement, APSCo explained it wasn’t surprised that UK vacancies as counted by the ONS fell by 66,000 in April-June 2023, as openings tend to cool in the “summer months”.

But on a yearly basis and looking at the billings from all of its agencies (not just those placing candidates with technology skills), the association said a milestone had been reached.

“[Our July] snapshot…powered by Bullhorn, which compares recruiter data from June 2023 with June 2022, reveals that contract vacancies across all sectors are now at pre-covid levels.”

‘A first for self-employment since the pandemic’

APSCo, which went on to share technology market data exclusively with Free-Work, is not the only respected trade association to be hailing a recovery, of sorts, from the pandemic.

Freelancing body the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) says another historical first is buried deep within the ONS data.

“This is the first time that the self-employed population has grown year-on-year in four successive quarters since the onset of the pandemic,” IPSE says.

‘Good news for businesses looking to flexibly recruit’

The association’s Andy Chamberlian made clear that the UK’s self-employed population still remains a significant 700,000 below pre-pandemic levels.

But released on August 15th 2023, the ONS figures show “there are 64,000 more self-employed than this time last year,” he said, meaning freelancers now total 4.3 million.

“Today’s figures mark a return to year-on-year self-employment growth for a fourth consecutive quarter,” said Mr Chamberlain, IPSE’s head of policy.

“This is good news for businesses looking to flexibly recruit talent, at a time when economic conditions might make a permanent hire less feasible.”

‘Freelancers skilled in digital and cybersecurity consistently in high demand’

The number of full-time vacancies are indeed “much lower,” APSCo said yesterday, referring to freelance opportunities now being as numerous as if covid hadn’t happened.

“Specifically in the IT sector, APSCo’s research -- produced with Broadbean Technology -- shows that the number of IT vacancies in Q2 2023 was down when compared with Q1,” APSCo’s Tania Bowers told Free-Work.

“[But still our] members report that demand for specialist IT professionals, in areas such as cybersecurity and digital, is still consistently high.”

‘Tech sector’s Application Per Vacancy Rate increasing’

Responding to questions, Bowers said it was fair to say that the UK’s technology labour market had been affected by staff layoffs at some of the best-known tech sector companies.

And ‘Big Tech’s lay-offs’ (as they have been coined) might explain why the IT sector’s Application Per Vacancy rate, or ‘APV,’ has increased in 2023.

“This indicates the balance of power in the IT contracting market is starting to swing away from the contractor towards the client,” Ms Bowers, APSCo’s global public policy director told Free-Work.

‘The more specialist in technology skills, the more contractor roles available’

Almost advising freelancers how they can make the pendulum swing back in their favour, Bowers said APSCo members believe “the more specialist the IT skills, the more contracting opportunities are available.”

Interestingly though, end-hirers struggling to recruit in other areas of their workforce might not hire afresh for freelance techies, until their stubborn skills gaps can be bridged.

“Our broader research which tracks data across other sectors, such as engineering, reveals that there is still an acute talent gap,” the association began, calling the gap a “deficit.”

‘Complete opposite to the IT sector’

APSCo added: “So a reduction in vacancies may be a sign that firms are not advertising new roles, when they are unable to fill current demand.

“This is supported by a marked reduction in [average] APV rates in July 2023 [overall] -- the complete opposite to the IT sector.”

In an online event last month, the “greatest challenge” to 100 employers trying to hire and onboard talent was “skills shortages,” identified by almost half (47%) of the participants.

‘Seven types of computer freelancer were scarce in July 2023’

The event follows Report on Jobs by the Recruitment & Confederation (REC), which found 10 skills in the computing sector were “in short supply” for full-time IT roles in July 2023.

The 10 were, Analysts; Cloud Engineers, Cyber Security, Data Scientists, Developers, Digital, IT, Software Engineers, Technical Managers and Technology.

Technology freelancers emerged as potentially less scarce, with a total of seven computer contractors on the REC agencies’ sought-after list -- Automation Testers; Data Professionals, Developers, Digital, IT, Software Engineers, and Technology.


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