BusinessDay
NigeriaDecides2023

Nigerian firms turn to freelance coders amid talent shortage

Many Nigerian firms are hiring freelance software developers for contract jobs in a bid to bridge the tech talent shortage caused by the ‘japa wave’ in the country and global layoff.

In a recent report by Freelance.com, the world’s largest freelancing and crowdsourcing marketplace, the number of requests for software development was up 54 percent in the third quarter of 2022 when compared to 2021, ranking as the fastest-growing skill compared to others.

The report also showed that jobs for coding ranked as the second-highest growing skill, moving up 45 percent, while backend development followed with 37 percent.

Experts said the trend of hiring freelance developers has been going on slowly for years in Nigeria but skyrocketed recently as a result of these economic uncertainties.

Some companies that spoke to BusinessDay said contracting freelance developers have enabled them to deliver digital service works effectively without committing much to hiring and equipping new tech talents.

“We now hire contract developers almost every time. It is now becoming easier for us to get really top talent without committing too much capital and other expenses. Most times, it is affordable if you want to get a younger set of talent when you don’t have all the resources to get the top guys,” Jose Maria Agulanna, co-founder of Keble, said.

Despite contracting freelance developers, Agulanna said he personally prefers to employ long-term talents who will always be around at a given point of need.

“But I prefer hiring long-term. Even though it takes a lot of time to train and get them incorporated into the culture, when something breaks, you can trust that someone is really on standby to fix it,” he said.

According to him, getting highly experienced freelance talent most times is very difficult in terms of cost and flexibility, which remains one of the negative effects of hiring a tech expert on a contract basis.

“It can really be costly, depending on that talent and it might not be so flexible. If there is a problem or a new feature, the company has to pay for it. Imagine if your business changes overnight, that kind of flexibility might not be taken well in a contract job.”

Read also: MTN to invest over N65m in Nigerian start-ups through grants

He said contract freelance developer jobs have enabled the company to deliver jobs within an expected date of delivery. “Positive impact can be seen in getting talent that can deliver on a task as fast as possible and at the expected timeframe.”

David Adeleke, co-founder and chief executive officer of Zeeh Africa, said there is a rise in requests for freelance developers, adding that the talent match to the demand is way below expectations.

Adeleke said Zeeh Africa is also going for freelance developers for contract works but majorly for minimal and side projects while avoiding them on core company products.

“Personally, we do hire freelance developers majorly for side projects but we don’t hire them to work on a core company product,” he said.

While explaining that contract freelancers have its benefits cost-wise, Adeleke highlighted the disadvantages it can pose to companies.

He said: “It also has its disadvantages in terms of the core structure of your product. Having different people work on your core code base can lead to an unstable system, as the case may be.

“For start-ups that are still building in an early stage or a company that does have a well-structured code base, it is not advisable because it would result in building a product that can be prone to crash.”

He said most contract developers do not abide by the memorandum of understanding and contracts drafted by the two parties peculiar with intellectual property. “Since they are contract-based, they get to distribute a task done for client A to other multiple clients or in some cases build a startup from it or sell the code to a competitor.”

Darlington Okafor, a UI/UX web designer and CEO of Norwebs Designs, said: “Over the years, corporate businesses have been resistant to remote employment. People hate change and will rather stick with what they are already comfortable with, but COVID-19 came and forced them into it. They now realise that remote employees can also work efficiently and it can also save them some overhead costs.

“Freelance workers to Nigerian businesses are now what Netflix is to movie lovers. You spend only for the job you want done and only when you need it, and nothing more.”

Okafor said there are more requests for freelance jobs on his part, despite the competition in the market as more professional developers continue to come into the freelance platform.

“I see firms and businesses contacting freelance developers for jobs as the new normal because they want to save cost and if they can hire a professional from a different country while paying less, they will continue,” he added.

On the effect of firms hiring freelance developers, he said businesses should hire a particular freelance developer to work for a long time. “As a business, I will advise getting a handful of efficient freelancers and sticking to them for the long run, instead of hiring just about anyone out there.”

Nicolas Idoko, a web developer, while speaking on the report, said the number of requests for freelance work has increased, adding that most times, he has to decline some offers that he doesn’t consider very rewarding.

He said: “I noticed this over time now where some companies that are doing very well notice that most of the time they don’t really need a high percentage of their developers. Their developers have already built their core products. They most times feel like why will they come to the office and do little. They now go for freelancers to maintain their products.

“Various companies have been laying off their programmers, if you notice very well, and the rate at which they are looking for programmers really reduced drastically unlike 2017 when you apply for programming jobs and you will see a lot of companies looking for staff developers.”

Idoko said there would be more freelancing tech jobs in Nigeria as companies will continue to lay off tech workers.

“What companies want now is to build their core products and get someone to manage it. They can give it to a freelancer to build it while they hire one developer to manage it,” he said. “There will be more layoffs, especially for the junior and mid-level developers, because people now prefer contract work because they are looking for results immediately.”