As businesses plan for 2024, there’s no doubt that one of their most pressing priorities will be to fill critical roles in their organisations.

With the usual spike in resignations towards the end of the year, many employers, especially those seeking to fill critical IT vacancies, will be interested in recruitment trends and whether they can use any insights to boost their own recruitment efforts. They can – but it requires the bravery of shifting their mindset.

We are looking down the barrel of an interesting, yet dangerous dilemma. Companies need skilled people and they can’t find them. Skilled people need jobs and they can’t get them. This dilemma needs careful consideration because there needs to be a viable connection between the two sides.

Skills demand

A notable trend in 2023 that will be extrapolated into 2024 and beyond is the high demand for critical technology skills. Top of the pile are any jobs involving software development and software engineering. Joining the most-in-demand list are jobs related to cloud adoption and cloud deployment, followed by ancillary functions such as dev-ops engineering, solutions architecture and enterprise architecture – all functions that support digital transformation. There has been an exponential increase in requirements for these skills, far beyond the market’s supply.

One could spend days arguing about the causes in South Africa, but it is a global phenomenon. In the ruthless arena of competing for a small skills pool, businesses that relentlessly pursue full-time employees have had to throw more money at the problem. Over the past few years, salary inflation across critical IT skill sets has reached a level that threatens business margins.

Model reflection

Everyone is aware of young graduates bemoaning their lack of experience preventing employment – but if there are no new jobs, where will these young people get the experience they need to advance their careers?

On the other hand, highly skilled and experienced people have followed the global trend and moved into the independent contracting arena. These people are excellence-driven, competent, and available; but businesses aren’t giving them a second look.

It’s time for reflection: is the model we have been peddling for the last three decades serving us or slowing us down? We all know the answer – yet there is still a wide-scale reluctance to embrace a candidate pool that will deliver, and deliver quickly.

One of the main complaints bandied about is that contractors charge more per day or per month. This may well be the case, but has a business considered the opportunity and resource cost of pursuing full-time staff at the expense of an independent contractor?

Onboarding for full-time employment can take months. On the other hand, if a business is willing to invest in an independent contractor, it will get the resource up-and-running in record time. Contractors are wired to deliver excellence – or else they won’t get renewed or new contracts. Also, when the time comes to part ways, there is none of the reputational damage associated with axing a permanent employee, and no drawn-out and costly processes to find another employee.

Independent attributes

In the tech skills space, businesses are pivoting toward independent contracting with astounding speed.

At Acuity Consultants, the number of independent contractors on the books grew 350% in the last year. This shift is entirely driven by clients, who brought their contracting requirements to the consultancy because they could not find full-time candidates. This trend is expected to continue.

The aim is to connect skilled IT independent contractors with businesses that need to fill critical technical roles quickly and affordably. Only then can businesses shift from survival to innovation and growth – and the promise of creating new jobs and valuable experience for graduates. It’s like putting together a large, complicated puzzle without trying to force incorrectly shaped pieces into the picture.

Perhaps the biggest benefit for businesses that can embrace the future of independent contracting is the type of person they engage. Independent contractors are mature, entrepreneurial, positive, self-governing, and driven by a pursuit of excellence because their success depends on it. I don’t know many businesses that would turn down these attributes.