The size of the contractor workforce is difficult to pin down, as few companies that use them in sizable numbers provide details publicly.
How big is the information-technology staffing industry?
Exact figures are hard to come by.
The public companies that hire technology consultants typically report their own head count, not that of the outside contractors they use. And the consulting field is diverse, encompassing everything from high-priced software-strategy advisers to “managed services” providers — firms that essentially build teams on demand to do outsourced work for a single client. There are also recruiters-for-hire who manage individual workers embedded within groups at a client company.
“It ends up being pretty difficult to really seriously pin down,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a labor economist with the state of Washington.
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Some big companies, like Apple (4,400 temporary workers), do disclose the temporary staff working at outside companies on their behalf. Others, like IBM, release a tally of the temporary staff they directly employ (24,321 workers), but leave out those employed by their vendors. Most don’t share either figure.
“If you’re the typical IT worker, you might not even understand that this is big business,” said Joe Rogel, a technology recruiter with Bellevue’s WideNet Consulting. “The person sitting next to you isn’t technically employed by your company, but by a consultant. At least in this area, it’s big.”
The available data and estimates paint a picture of a billion-dollar industry that employs thousands in Washington.
In the state providers of temporary information-technology staff generated $945 million in revenue in 2013, according to the most recent estimates from the Staffing Industry Analysts advisory firm.
But that tally, focusing on strictly temporary workers, is only a slice of the technology contracting pie, as it excludes workers paid upon the completion of a specific project or task.
The scope of the industry is also apparent from the influence wielded by what recruiters say is the region’s biggest buyer of IT consultants: Microsoft. A 2009 review of figures from internal software used to track human-resources information indicated Microsoft was then using the services of about 80,000 contract workers of various types, though it’s unclear where they were located.
Since then, Microsoft’s regular, full-time employee head count has grown by about a quarter, to 118,000 at the end of March, before layoffs announced this month.
“Microsoft has definitely driven a lot of the consulting economy in the region,” said Brian Jacobsen, general manager of the Seattle office of Slalom, an IT consultancy.
The American Staffing Association, a trade group, estimates that 1.8 million of the 14 million contractors U.S. staffing companies hire each year work in engineering, information technology or scientific roles.
“Some people would say, ‘Hey, that’s not permanent, full-time employment,’ but that’s certainly the way the industry is moving more and more,” said Dan Bernard, who helps connect job seekers with employers at Pacific Associates in Seattle. “There are so many of them, they’re the ones doing a lot of the hiring right now.”