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The rise of the contingent workforce

Are we coming to the end of traditional working practices?

This was something I was asked recently, if I thought a 9-5, job for life (which already no longer exists) type of thing was dying out…
 
The question made me think about how traditional roles and working patterns have shifted. Just a few years ago, the workforce was mainly classed as ‘permanent’ with people choosing to work in either the public or private sector. But today, as both working patterns and lifestyles have changed, the biggest impact on the makeup of the workplace is the rise of the contingent workforce. In fact, in January, the number of contingent workers rose, by 71,000 since the previous quarter, to a total of 4.61 million. And it’s showing no signs of slowing down.
 
When discussing the contingent workforce, many people tend to only associate the term with ‘gig’ jobs at headline grabbing companies like Deliveroo, TaskRabbit and Uber. But this doesn’t accurately reflect the varied character of this new worker. Today’s contingent workforce include highly skilled specialists and consultants that operate across almost every industry.
 
Previously we might have described these workers as ‘job hoppers’, who would leave the business in a year and become a ‘wasted’ resource. Little did we know that, actually, they might be adding value by completing a critical project for our business, and then leaving when they’ve contributed what they can.
 
The rise of the contingent workforce really should be music to the ears of HR professionals as engaging them in the right way could reduce costs, fill skill gaps, allow businesses to be more agile and help to address specific challenges their organisation may be facing.
 
But, to come back to our opening question, while contingent workers are clearly becoming a key part of the overall workforce, full time employees are (and will always be) crucial to the success of businesses. Today not everyone works the same hours at the same location or even the same contract. So, how can HR professionals manage both contingent and full time employees while getting the most out of all the talent available to them? Below are some of my thoughts on ‘why’ to engage contingent workers as well as the importance of having a total talent vision. Ultimately, it’s all about ensuring you are hiring the best talent to help drive your business forward, no matter what category they sit in.

Why do you need contingent workers?  

The crucial first step is to understand why your organisation needs contingent workers, and what you want them to achieve. Skipping this step would be like buying a new drive for your computer, only to find out that it’s actually something entirely different that needs fixing – a total waste of money.
 
In my experience, one of the best ways to better understand your needs is having regular conversations with managers across your company. They are often in the best position to give you an understanding of current skills gaps, and where teams could use more specialist or short term help. These conversations will allow you to be much more targeted when it comes to the actual recruiting. 
 
To complement this approach, you could also consider working with outsourcing professionals. They will often have specialist consultants trained to help you understand exactly what additional skills your organisation needs to enhance productivity and deliver the best outcomes.

On-boarding contingent workers

Armed with a clearer idea of where your internal skills gaps are, puts you in a good position to start recruiting. However, don’t make the assumption that this is the straightforward part – strategies that work when recruiting permanent employees rarely succeed when looking to recruit contingent staff, due to the transient nature of this workforce.
 
Sourcing and recruiting qualified contingent workers, especially at short notice, can be tricky. One stumbling block I often come across is internal teams not having the relevant experience, understanding or network available to recruit contingent workers. In the same way that working in either internal recruitment or agency recruitment requires different specific skill set, so does working with contingent or permanent hires. This is why for years’ agency recruiters have had different desks (Temp / Perm) and it works. So why are so many internal teams not splitting head count in this way? Now might be the time to start...
 
Outsourcing the recruitment of your contingent workforce is another potential solution depending on the volume and skill sets required. Not only could this save time, but it also gives your business access to a much larger pool of highly skilled workers and allows your staff to concentrate on high value hires.

How will you engage your contingent workforce?

So you’ve recruited some excellent contingent workers. What’s next? One important question to ask yourself is whether you have a business strategy in place to manage banks of workers engaged under different terms? Broadly, you should treat contingent employees in much the same way (within reason and regulation) as you do full-time employees.
 
Generally, contingent workers tend to be more flexible than permanent employees, and won’t hesitate to stop working for your business if they feel they are not getting treated well or have been engaged under false pretences (though the same is true for you if deliverables are not being met). Making contingent workers feel like part of the team from the start, can help ensure you develop a good relationship with top talent and can use them again in the future. It’s also worth thinking about the impact on your permanent staff should more contingent workers enter the business. Specifically, how to manage the messaging and staff turnover with them.
 
By having a strategy on how you engage with all elements of your workforce, new workers will not only become productive faster, but staff turnover will be reduced and business efficiency increased.

Do you have a total talent vision?

Are you aware of all the skills that currently exist in your organisation’s workforce? And equally importantly, do you know which you’ll need for the future? To answer these questions, and ensure you are getting the most out of the entire workforce, every business must have a ‘total talent vision’.
 
One of the easiest ways to create this is by completing a skills audit of both existing and new employees. Doing this can make you aware of skills within your organisation that you might have previously ignored, or reveal areas that your resourcing strategy should focus on. It’s very important to also include permanent staff in this, as these are the backbone of your organisation and should be given the opportunity to do what they do best every day. This approach will help to ensure that every single skill in your talent pool is being used in the most effective way to deliver key business goals.

Photo of Peter Donaldson

Peter Donaldson

Head of sales, Capita Resourcing

Peter has worked in the recruitment industry since 2010, gaining extensive experience at both an operational and strategic level. He has expertise in both specialist and managed service recruitment, and has delivered resourcing and talent acquisition solutions to a wide range of sectors across both SME and FTSE 100 clients.

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