Man considering whether he should use data science contractors for his project.

Need a data scientist? Why you should consider a data science contractor.

Many companies focus on hiring permanent employees for their data science roles when, in some cases, a data science contractor might provide a convenient, more readily-available solution while also offering other advantages.

If you’re like many of the analytics leaders and HR professionals we talk to, you know how hard it is to build a strong data science team. Given that everyone is chasing a few fish in a small pool, it’s hard to find strong candidates with the skill set you need. Then you have to win them over before the other employers fishing in that same pool. But there are many circumstances where working with contractors for data science roles can be a significant benefit.

When should you use a data science contractor?

  • Project-specific needs: Depending on the structure of your data science organization, contractors can help with project-specific needs, especially when you need very specific skills. 
  • Bandwidth Expansion: If you’re executing a project or other one off activity, for example a migration from old technologies to new ones, you need qualified talent but only for a limited time. With contractors, you can ramp up the bandwidth of your team and then decrease it as your workload evolves.
  • Times of economic uncertainty: For most businesses, work doesn’t stop in a recession. But hiring is usually one of the first things put on hold. Companies that weather recessions well look ahead to the other side. Business-critical projects continue, even if they are slowed. Working with data science contractors is an excellent stopgap to keep your goals on track, even if your permanent employee headcount is restricted. 
  • The data science role is new or not well defined: We work with a lot of rapid-growth companies eager to hire their first data scientist. But when you\’re building out a relatively new data team, or expanding functionality, it’s hard to know exactly what you need up front. Contracting data science experts can help you shape individual responsibilities of team members and overall data strategy without committing resources to full-time employees.
  • Affordability: A common misconception is that contractors are vastly more expensive than full-time employees. But once you consider taxes, benefits and bonuses, it turns out that the premiums associated with contractors are less than you might imagine.
  • Larger talent pool: Immigrants and temporary residents represent a large, relatively untapped talent pool of data science talent. While your company, like many, may be hesitant to sponsor immigrant visas, contracting provides you with access to this talent pool. If you work with the right staffing agency, they can take on most of the paperwork and expense of sponsorship, eliminating that hurdle. As we would for any position, we recommend a strong data science vetting process (or a vendor that implements such a process) to ensure you’re getting what you need. 
  • Capitalize on retention trends: Of course, most organizations are keen on having stability with the talent that they find, and there’s good reason for that. But hiring an employee outright does not guarantee they will stay with your organization any longer than a contractor will. Data scientists seldom spend more than 2 years with a given company. You may find that data science contractors are easier to keep with your company as they are not competing in the full-time employment market.
  • Try before you buy: As you’ve probably seen, interviews sometimes fail to reveal the true abilities or shortcomings of a candidate. Contracting a person before bringing them on as a full-time employee allows for a more thorough evaluation of their technical aptitude as well as their ability to gel with the organizational culture. Make sure, though, that your contract provider allows contract-to-hire arrangements before bringing on a new resource.

Using contractors can help organizations focus on long term goals

With other analytic technologies, companies build a core of talent to interface with business users, set technology directions, and oversee delivery. Once this core is emplaced, these companies then fill out their team with contractors, allowing them to flex their team sizes to meet the challenges facing them at that moment.

Should data science be any different? Do you need a core staff of employees on your data science team? Almost certainly yes. However, we are seeing more and more organizations pursuing employee-only approaches when they would be able to move quicker and more effectively if they gave their staffing approach some thought and nuance. By using data science contractors in the right places you can address immediate needs quickly, but also better pace the development of your data team, regardless of how projects ebb and flow.

Data science contracting or recruitment

Do you need help evaluating whether a data science contractor or permanent employee is better for your organization? Are you ready to add an analytics or data engineering contractor to your staff? We can help. We have more than 25 years in the data consulting business and have helped companies across the U.S. find highly-qualified data scientists to fit their organizational needs, be it permanent employee, temporary contractor, or a temp-to-hire professional. Contact us today to get started.

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