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How to thrive in the coming tech gig economy

Paul Heltzel | Oct. 27, 2015
The rise of contract and contingent work is shaking up the traditional IT career path. Here’s how to navigate for success.

Doug Paulo, Kelly Services
“To continue to attract professional and technical candidates with the high level of expertise and diverse experience they need, employers will have to keep their doors open to just-in-time talent by offering the more flexible, nontraditional work arrangements that free agents are looking for.” — Doug Paulo, Kelly Services

Gabe McDonald, senior vice president in Addison Group’s contract IT practice, says developing skills in a specific area not only makes you a more attractive hire, it also boosts your paycheck.

“The premium rates that accompany contract work are typically paid for people who are subject-matter experts,” McDonald says. “If you’re pursuing a role in development, I’d recommend mastering a specific language and keeping up-to-date with new versions, instead of expanding the number of languages you’re familiar with. Professionals who provide a more specialized expertise ultimately will secure the highest-paying, more sought-after roles.”

Kelly’s Paulo, however, argues that a broad set of skills can increase your options.

“Companies that are working leaner may appreciate having employees who are not steeped too deep in one area and can handle multiple types of projects.” But he points out that his firm’s own research suggests that IT pros themselves want to get specific when it comes to skill sets.

Margaret Gernert, research director, CDI Corp.
“Many of our clients want talent that has both technical skills and knowledge of their industry, which is why knowing your technical discipline and immersing yourself in it is required, but the vertical experience is becoming more and more essential.” — Margaret Gernert, research director, CDI Corp.

“IT professionals place a substantially higher emphasis on developing specific skills, with 25 percent citing that not having additional training would be a factor in leaving their existing employer,” Paulo says. “On the other hand, 66 percent cited training as a significant attraction factor to new opportunities or companies as opposed to 58 percent of the overall population. Because IT is a function that has a very high probability of working in virtual teams, the ability to work well with team members abroad is considered common, so deeper expertise receives a higher emphasis.”

Break out: Wolf pack or lone wolf?

If you're considering going on your own, you may wonder whether it’s better to go solo or work with a partner. Should you join up with another IT pro with a different skill set to increase your opportunities -- or is independence more important to you?

Kelly’s Paulo suggests going on your own is, well, more fun. “To be a true free agent and enjoy the flexibility the lifestyle affords, it would be more beneficial to go on your own,” Paulo says. “That way, you are more adept and able to be agile and seize opportunities quickly.”


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