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IT contracting in the UK

Expatriates (expats) who are citizens from outside the UK and EU, and have the right skills and the right to live and work legally in the UK, such as a Tier 2 (General) skilled worker visa, can take advantage of the great opportunities offered by a career as an Information Technology, or IT contractor. So what is it that IT contractors actually do?

Because contractors usually earn much more than employees, it is possible for expat IT contractors to take home significantly higher net pay than a regular employee, as well as enjoy the lifestyle and tax advantages of ‘being their own boss’.

IT contractors are nearly always in demand in the UK because:

  • There is a major shortage of skilled IT workers in the UK
  • Fewer young British people are choosing careers in IT
  • Organisations cannot neglect their IT departments, because they simply could not function without them!

IT contractors are also in demand during economic downturns, because contractors are a lower risk than employees to hire and then terminate during periods of uncertainly. Also, companies tend to look to their IT professionals to generate the competitive advantage and efficiencies that help them survive during tough times.

What is an IT contractor?

IT contractors are workers with transferable information technology skills who work on a contract basis for their clients. They must be able to apply their IT skills, knowledge and experience in a large number of situations – there is no value to a client for an IT contractor who only knows how to work in bespoke or outdated computer languages; these types of IT professional typically remain as employees.

IT contractors can fulfil a wide number of roles for their clients. These vary from lower skilled positions such as in IT helpdesk and support through mid-level SQL, communications and networking roles to extremely high-end developer and business analyst opportunities.

The common theme of all IT contractors is that they are highly proficient at their chosen IT specialism, they are passionate about what they can do, they hit the ground running and can work as part of a team unsupervised, because they know how to do the job that they’ve been contracted by the client to do.

Where do IT contractors work?

Every kind of medium and large organisation in the UK needs IT contractors, and so IT contractors can find contracts in almost every kind of medium to large organisation in the UK.

That means expat IT contractors can find work with the:

  • Private sector, for medium to large companies and corporations
  • Public sector, for national and local government, government departments, in education and in healthcare
  • Third sector, as the not-for-profit sector is known in the UK, for organisations such as charities and other social enterprises.

Within these broad sectors, expat IT contractors can find themselves working in defence, aerospace, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), business services, banking and finance, for central government departments, regional government, in schools and universities – in fact almost every part of the private and public sector uses IT contractors.

IT contractors are workers with transferable information technology skills who work on a contract basis for their clients

However, in the UK the IT contracting is dominated by the financial services sector, particularly banking, and a significant proportion of IT contractors work and live in London and the South East of England. There is a very good chance that expat workers who want a career as an IT contractor will work for a bank in London.

What can expat IT contractors earn?

Expat IT contractors’ earnings depend very much on the kind of contracts they work on. Typically, an IT contractor will take home significantly more of their earnings as net pay than an employee in a parallel permanent role with similar skills and experience. Contractor Calculator has an online calculator that can work out how much better off a contractor will be compared to an employee.

Contractors’ pay is usually calculated on an hourly or daily basis and IT contractors submit timesheets that provide their client with the amount of hours they have worked in a set period, usually a week or month.

Lower skilled roles, such as helpdesk support will pay hourly, based on weekly timesheets and may be as little as £10 per hour, or £100 per day. The bulk of IT contractors are in mid-range roles, such as networking and communications contracts, earning around £20-£30 per hour, or £350-£450 per day.

High-end IT contractors with considerable experience and specialised skills, in areas like testing, business analysis and development, can command day rates of £500 to more than £1,000 per day, and are usually paid monthly according to their day rate.

With the right skills, expat IT contractors from outside the UK and EU have the potential to earn significantly more than employees can, and to enjoy a great lifestyle.

Updated: 05 March 2012

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