Reading the newspapers or watching TV can certainly make the employment outlook seem pretty bleak. Especially if you happen to be among the 1 in 10 U.S. workers seeking employment. While the unemployment rate for highly skilled information technology professionals generally runs about 50 percent of the general unemployment rate nationally, no sector in today’s market place has remained completely untouched by the downturn.
However, even in challenging times it is possible to make lemonade out of a tough situation, both for employers and for workers seeking opportunities. Here are a few reasons why now appears to be the right time for both sides to be optimistic.
First Out First In - Often during a downturn, consultants and contractors are the first to have their projects and positions eliminated as the market weakens. HR professionals and hiring managers leverage a variable cost labor strategy to quickly address spikes in workload or the need for specialized skills when demand increases, and can quickly reduce staff as required when the demand lessens. This means that while consultants and contractors are sometimes first to go during a downturn they are among the first to return during a recovery. This can happen for several reasons.
The work doesn’t end. Unless the company is closing its doors, someone still has to handle the day to day requirements for new mapping and modifications, setting up new trading partners, and other day to day support issues that need to be addressed.
Unintended losses – Companies rarely if ever have a crystal ball that tells them the exact number of workers to retain during challenges times. Instead, thru a series of downsizings and layoffs they reach a number that more closely approximates where they think their staff size should be. Unfortunately, on the way down to that number companies sometimes find they have unintentionally frightened away the key technical employees they otherwise intended to retain. This scenario leaves the company with a gap in skills and expertise larger than they are able to span with existing and sometimes less experienced staff.
Trending upward – As the recession begins to abate, companies have become adept at testing the waters carefully thru exercising the variable cost labor strategy mentioned earlier. This allows hiring managers to meet workload demands without the long term commitment and additional overhead expense of a full time hire until things stabilize.
The business case for why companies find variable labor attractive can be summarized by examining three key areas from the perspective of both the client and the consultant.
Capability – For employers seeking additional help, what skill gaps exists in your current fixed labor pool that are preventing you from moving projects forward and positioning your company to capture more market share? For consultants and contractors seeking additional work, what unique skills are you highlighting thru your resume and other interactions with the marketplace that could result in potential projects because of your ability to help companies achieve their goals?
Affordability – Organizations realize reduced project costs by leveraging consultants earlier in a recovery rather than waiting for the labor market’s law of supply and demand to exact its inevitable toll. Consultants need to be prepared to examine the long term effects of continuous work as opposed to the short-term view of only considering an hourly price point. When both sides approach the issue of cost from reasonable perspectives, work gets done in a win-win environment. Consultants find more work while the clients who need their services test the waters of increasing project demands using the proven variable cost labor model.
Flexibility – Consultants and clients are most successful in their work with one another when they exercise “appropriate flexibility” at the right time. As the market begins to weaken, consultants need to open themselves to a wider array of projects, even when those projects do not utilize all of their skills. As the market begins to recover, clients often find the need to loosen their requirements slightly to match the population of available talent as the labor pool begins to shrink. This isn’t compromise for the sake of compromise, but both parties in the equation understanding the nature of the labor market enough to know when to become “appropriately flexible” on issues such as position, amount of travel, telecommuting, work hours, etc...
The market will, as it has in times past, quickly require capable, affordable, and flexible talent to do the work that must be done as the economy improves. Companies and consultants who are able to discern the state of the labor market and make the right business decisions for each situation will have a clear edge over their competitors.