I was having an interesting discussion with a CIO last week around his IT strategy. He was focused on innovation and eliminating processes or systems that were not effective and his strategy was working. It was impressive what he accomplished with a very small team; this guy had vision and heart. He also had no idea that the temp talent community held the high caliber of resources he needed to expand his vision and infuse his team with new talent and perspective. He never used contractors; the number of contractors in the North American sector of his business was “zero.” He said “You mean, you could find a Data Scientist contractor? They do that kind of work?” I told him every role and skill set you can think of exists in the temp talent community, including CIO. That opened his eyes. We spend the next hour or so brainstorming around how temp talent could support his vision.
After our conversation ended, he sent me an article from the Economist on the gig economy and wanted my thoughts. The tag line “The rise of the on-demand economy poses difficult questions for workers, companies and politicians.” Economist Article
The world of work and workforce landscape has been shifting and evolving since the industrial revolution, this is just the most recent shift, albeit a dramatic one. The Industrial Revolution inspired the creation of child labor laws, but it didn’t stop the progression of power-driven machinery expanding textile and other industries. Non-industrial wage labor increased; urban centers grew. These economic developments coincided with dramatic changes in family life, particularly declining family size and increasing life expectancy. A greater role for women in the labor force, contemporary politics, and reform activities were the result of technological change in nineteenth-century America.
The “new normal” of our workforce is made up of roughly 50% temp talent. It has evolved organically; driven by globalization of the workforce, workers creating their own “job security” via their personal marketability after the Big Recession, and market conditions and consumer demand changing on a dime.
The Economist article stated two powerful forces are speeding up the gig economy; technology and changing social habits. Complex tasks, such as programming a computer or writing a legal brief, can now be divided into their component parts—and subcontracted to specialists around the world. The on-demand economy provides a way for people with no time and money, and people with no money and time to trade with each other.
The article went on to say the truth is more nuanced. Consumers are clear winners; so are Western workers who value flexibility over security. Taxpayers stand to gain if on-demand labor is used to improve efficiency in the provision of public services.
The debate over protecting workers rights is a worthwhile one; and clearly a strong political platform. However, governments attempting to restrict the on-demand and overall temp workforce are going to have negative impacts on the economy. The government has opportunities to measure employment and wages and how these workers are treated, as well as standardize states rules for contract workers.
These opportunities are not on the same scale as protecting children from 15 hours days in dangerous factory environments, but they do require thoughtful analysis and putting the worker at the forefront. And workers will need to understand their role in ensuring their skills stay current and selling their brand. For the majority, this is a worthwhile price to pay for the freedom and job security they have while working for “You, Inc.”
Terri Gallagher is the President/CEO of Gallagher and Consultants; a workforce strategy solutions company; focusing on contingent workforce solutions. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org