Digital skills crisis enriches freelancers

A huge shortage of expertise in Britain’s digital industry is playing into the hands of contract and freelance professionals, an industry survey reveals.

Firms reported using more freelancers to fill their digital roles in 2007 than in previous years, in light of difficulty retaining and attracting top calibre candidates.

Almost two-thirds of companies, in the travel, marketing and technical industries, increased their intake of digital freelancers last year, says a survey by Chinwag.

But this trend of using more freelancers for digital roles, which was also marked in the retail and leisure industries, is not universally predicted to continue, the media firm said.

In fact, half of companies don’t expect to alter their intake of digital freelancers in 2008, with the largest companies being the likeliest to freeze such non-permanent hires.

But opportunities for digital freelancers will crop up, particularly in smaller outfits, where freelancers are expected to be sought on an ad hoc basis, the survey shows.

"Going forward, there is a nervousness about the economy," said Debra Amini, managing director of ProfilesCreative, reflecting on why larger firms/agencies are inclined to turn away from freelancers.

"I think larger organisations or larger agencies, if they can find a good digital person, because they are not easy to find, will take them on permanently.

"But the thing is, most digital candidates won’t go permanent right now. A lot will refuse because they can make so much more money as a freelance."

According to Chinwag, Ms Amini is right about low availability: nine out of ten companies said it was difficult or impossible to recruit the necessary digital skills in 2007.

Positively, 10% of all the firms plan to increase their freelance staff by 25% over the coming eleven months, says the survey of 200 companies.

And as ever in the jobs market, clients are willing to fork out for rare skills: three-quarters of the firms, notably those most in need of digital expertise, plan to increase pay for digital staff.

But before freelancers pop the corks, the survey notes that companies that found it tough to recruit digital workers are less likely to turn to freelancers in the following year.

This suggests that businesses are experiencing problems attracting appropriately qualified staff from both the permanent and freelance pools, Chinwag said.

Yet overall, “freelancers are doing well from the shortage of skilled staff,” the firm added, but larger clients expect little or no increase in freelance staff.

The pollster said that this trend among organisations may indicate a tendency towards hiring permanent staff or outsourcing.

However, the outlook remains relatively bright. Chinwag concluded that the “climate across the sector seems unlikely to dampen the enthusiasm of skilled workers to head down the freelance route in 2008.”

Last month, ProfilesCreative said that any creative role online, whether it be a copywriter or digital designer, could expect an annual pay rise of 15-20% from 2006.


29th January 2008

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