Tech professionals with specialized skills know they’re in demand, especially in hot markets such as the Bay Area and New York City. But how are employers dealing with that pressure for talent? One word: consultants. “Increasingly, IT departments find this is the best approach for handling short-term and specialized initiatives such as cloud migrations and cybersecurity projects,” read a new report (PDF) from analyst firm Robert Half. “This trend plays out among companies of all sizes, but small and midsize firms, in particular, often prefer to engage project IT talent because it is impractical for them to make full-time tech hires when their need may turn out not to be ongoing.” For many firms, hiring consultants and contractors may save money in the long run. Senior-level tech pros are not only expensive, but often demand high-level benefits such as equity. Hiring on a project-by-project basis also gives companies a lot of resource and scheduling flexibility. According to the most recent Dice Salary Survey, consultants pulled down an average annual salary of $114,473, with an average base rate per hour of $69.05. (That surpasses full-time tech professionals, who earned an average of $91,067.) Compare that to 2012, when the average base rate stood at $63.61 per hour, and it’s clear that consultants as a whole have done rather well over the past few years. But as a group, consultants also have some disadvantages vis-à-vis regular employees. Unlike full-time employees, they often don’t have an employer willing to pay for their certifications; and while they might have the flexible schedule that comes with being able to choose clients, there aren’t many opportunities to climb a corporate ladder. For those who consult, though, the money and flexibility might prove worth those drawbacks. With the right mix of certifications and experience, they can certainly rake in the big bucks in certain markets.