Keyboards for Hire: Tech Freelancers Help Companies Plug Talent Gaps

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With the digital shift in IT teams, CIOs are hiring technical freelancers to complete a variety of tasks

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At the same time, he says, remote working and the rise of cloud computing and advanced data tools are driving record demand and fierce competition for cloud engineers and architects, data analysts, artificial intelligence developers and other enterprise-tech professionals.

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Instead of facing an uphill battle for full-time employees, many tech majors are choosing temporary workers to specialize in specific project areas. Others are using freelancers to cover more routine IT tasks, freeing up their own employees to gain skills and experience with advanced capabilities.

Flexera Software LLC, a Chicago-based software firm, currently employs about 35 freelancers in a variety of technical roles across the company, said Conel Gallagher, the company’s CIO and chief information security officer. This is higher than in previous years and is likely to increase in the coming year, Mr. Gallagher said.

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“The numbers go up and down depending on what we’re projecting,” Gallagher said. Right now, he said, the company is moving a lot of on-premises business applications to the cloud, “we have a freelancer on board who’s helping it.” Flexera has a total of approximately 1,300 permanent employees, including Mr. Gallagher’s team of 36 full-time IT employees.

As the company’s head of online security, Gallagher said he is well prepared to ensure that freelancers working remotely – a growing category – have restricted access to sensitive data, systems and networks. . “We can safely pull talent from almost anywhere and I can see us pulling more and more over time,” he said.

IT trade group CompTIA said on Friday that US employers posted 295,034 IT job openings last month, bringing the total number of postings since January to nearly 2.7 million. These include many IT jobs in professional, scientific and technical-services firms, banks and insurance firms, manufacturers, schools and retailers, among other sectors, the group said.

Of the total 5.6 million tech workers in the U.S. labor market last year, 161,000 reported themselves as up 2.1% and nearly double that in 2019, according to CompTIA’s analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data. The number of technical workers classified under all other types of employment, a broad agency category that includes part-time gig and temporary work, ranged by 2.2% to about 454,000.

Software developers, which were the most in-demand positions based on job postings, were also the largest category of self-employed workers, said Tim Herbert, CompTIA’s vice president of research and market intelligence. It’s difficult to set a definitive number on freelance technical workers, he said, because the Department of Labor does not explicitly break out freelance or contract work in the Comprehensive Employment Report. But, he added, “from an employer’s perspective, the extremely tight labor market puts all options on the table.”

More than 1,000 US hiring managers recently surveyed by online freelance marketplace platform Upwork said the shift to remote work triggered by Covid-19 has increased their company’s desire to use freelancers. Among those already hiring freelance tech workers, demand was highest for web, mobile, and software developers, with nearly two-thirds of hiring managers surveyed saying they wanted to increase the use of tech freelancers across the board in the next 12 months. are planning, according to Upwork.

Sam Bright, Upwork’s chief product and experience officer, said employers are starting to move toward the idea of ​​accessing talent rather than looking for permanent employees. “It gives workers a better opportunity to find something they like, and gives employers a chance to find them quickly without going through the lengthy, expensive and hit-and-miss process of hiring,” Mr. Bright said.

Les Ottolenghi, chief information and technology officer, online education provider Stride Inc.,

In addition to a full-time team of approximately 400 IT employees, he hires freelancers in a range of enterprise technical areas, including workers with specialized cloud migration skills or cybersecurity experience.

The best enterprise IT departments, he said, are focused on creating business value, not on managing servers or running reports. “No organization has all the skills needed to keep up with the pace of change,” said Mr. Ottolenghi. “That’s where freelancers come in,” he said.

For his part, tech freelancers see an attractive vendor market for their skills, said Thomas Wick, a regional director for the technology divisions at staffing firm Robert Half International. Inc.

“They can actually make more money by working on projects as a contractor than they would as a full-time employee,” Mr. Vick said. “There are a lot of IT projects going on within companies right now and most don’t have the bandwidth to handle them,” he said.

Josh Burns, a 31-year-old IT worker in Versailles, Ky., specializing in database administration and database development, said he recently left a more than $100,000 salaried job to do freelance work.

He added that freelancing offers higher pay and more freedom: “I can work from anywhere and charge at the rates I want,” Mr. Burns said.

Angus Loten at [email protected]

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