Unlike many professions where opportunities for part-time workers are growing steadily, most employers would rather their IT staff work more hours, not fewer, commentators have warned.
Since IT workers generally support users in the rest of organisations, their work often demands long hours and short-notice availaibility. Added to this, the market shows that there are almost more available jobs than IT professionals, with unemployment in IT less than 2% in the US and elsewhere, which makes companies less inclined to let a valuable IT staffer cut back on hours than in many other professions.
"IT problems are 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," says Ilyse Shapiro, founder of MyPartTimePro.com, a website launched in March designed to connect experienced professionals in a variety of industries with employers looking for part-time, flexible, virtual or seasonal employees.
Shapiro says there are very few companies looking for permanent, part-time IT help. "With BlackBerries and laptops, everybody is working 24 hours a day, so I'm not seeing as many part-time positions as I would like to in this field."
One IT professional says that because the job isn't task-based – rarely is something truly "finished" in IT – it's difficult to quantify the work involved, and therefore hard to come up with a scaled-back version of the position.
"A big component of IT work is ongoing support, even after the project or task is completed, which doesn't lend itself to part-time help," says Richard Cummins, director of the technology services group with Community Medical Centers' corporate information systems in the US.
Another issue is the frequency with which IT professionals need to be trained and retrained. "To remain competitive in the IT market, especially as an engineer, it requires a lot of hands-on training on a full-time basis."
And yet another reason that may contribute to the scarcity of part-time IT jobs is the abundance of contract or project-based work available.
MyPartTimePro.com's Shapiro believes this is because technology needs can be very specific – an XML developer or Oracle database administrator, for example – and employers often want the flexibility to bring on a skilled professional with the sole purpose of completing a project, instead of having to train someone on staff.
But occasionally companies will hire extra IT workers with limited hours to provide additional support on a help desk, says Brian Gabrielson, vice president with Robert Half Technology – and especially those companies with customer-facing help desks that need more workers during crunch times. Added to this, growing companies with changing needs may hire a part-time IT professional before they see the need for a full-time staffer. But otherwise there is little demand from either employers or job seekers for part-time IT positions, he says.
So while many trained and experienced IT professionals have reasons to avoid full-time employment – needing to care for children or elderly, wanting to take partial retirement, or preferring to work from home – few employees are developing positions intended to be both part time and permanent, Shapiro says. Instead what often happens is a job applicant or existing employee proposes the idea of working part time, which often results in squeezing the responsibilities of a full-time position into fewer than 40 hours a week, she says.
But according to one career analyst, the availability of part-time permanent IT positions has more to do with the culture of a given employer than the nature of the job.
"Whether or not an organisation can use part-time jobs is a part of its imagination," says Diane Morello, vice president with Gartner. "The question is whether an organisation has any interest in hiring part-time [workers], more than whether the job is suitable for it."
But with such a low unemployment rate among IT professionals, companies that don't traditionally hire part-time professionals will have to start becoming more flexible if they want to attract talent, Robert Half's Gabrielson said.
"That low rate has got to get people thinking creatively about the problem," he says.
During these first few months of MyPartTimePro.com's existence, Shapiro says she spends a lot fo time educating individuals about the benefits of part-time professionals when approaching companies about posting jobs on her site.
"I'm trying to open their eyes ... they might be fully staffed now, but in six months or a year or two years they might not be," she says. "There are retirees, mothers, caregivers, huge populations of people who have tremendous experience but just can't work full time."
Meanwhile, other industries that are experiencing or are soon to experience employment shortfalls have looked to part-time professionals to meet their needs, particularly healthcare, law and accounting, she says.
For example, many law firms have chosen to keep former full-time employees that want to go part time rather than incur the expense of retraining new workers – an example that employers in need of IT help could learn from.