The monthly Dice Report from the technology job board is out, and the theme this time is that contracting and self-employment is on the rise.
Based on Dice's assessment of its technology job postings and a poll of job seekers, working without benefits on hourly or project work seems to be one of the most telling trends in technology jobs right now.
But if you read between the lines, it doesn't seem like anyone really chooses this career path on their own. It feels a bit more Darwinian than that.
Here are the Dice numbers for May 2009:
Available Tech Jobs: 49,016
Full-time Positions: 30,039
Contract Positions: 21,742
Part-time Positions: 1,040
None of this is surprising, but here is how the voice of the monthly Dice Report, Tom Silver, puts it in a release:
"On Dice, contractor positions now constitute 44 percent of the job market, compared to 40 percent 12 months ago. One result: A number of tech professionals are examining the idea of working for themselves, whether they want to or not. Certainly, many are taking on contracting assignments as a way to make some money while they look for full time jobs. But others are considering, perhaps for the first time, the idea that self-employment is their next logical career move."
The issue of self-employment can be a daunting prospect for a number of key reasons: developing clients; having to bill hourly; whether to incorporate; tax and accounting considerations; insurance; tracking invoices (which is another way of saying chasing greenbacks); and the general uncertainty that comes from being an independent contractor.
Companies like it when they don't have to pay you benefits and can terminate your contract at will. But on the one hand, is that any different from being employed full time right now, really? Seems like companies are having no problem eliminating technology jobs. Today, Microsoft. Tomorrow, Oracle?
You can tell by the tone of the answers in a recent Dice poll on self-employment how people feel about the prospect of a small contracting business:
"If you were laid off, would you consider starting a small business?40% Yes, I don't have much choice.23% Yes, but I want to see if the economy improves. 37% No. It's too risky in this climate."
My take from this poll is that self-employment is generally not a desirable place to be for technology workers used to being paid well and having excellent health care and retirement benefits. The security and stability garnered from a steady, predictable wage and solid benefits cannot be overlooked.
Here's Silver's take on going it alone:
"Where contracting requires a different mindset is in the realm of business, not technology. Success requires budding entrepreneurs to honestly examine what makes them tick. They need to decide not only whether their skills are marketable, but whether they're capable of doing the marketing. They have to be able to manage their time, because maintaining relationships and looking for the next assignment are as vital to their bottom line as are billable hours. They need to be self-disciplined - not only so they sit down and get their work done, but so they keep up with certifications and changes in technology."
These are really good points to consider, especially the self-marketing, relationship building and self-discipline areas. This can be a very challenging prospect for those used to working a cubicle life with machine, project plan, and inherent company and department organizational structures in place.
Want a more in-depth look at how to approach job independence? Here's an article from Dice that takes a look at the realities of being anindependent technology consultant. It's a good starter article with interviews of people who have gone through the process themselves. Check it out.