Traditional work structures have been under constant evolution. Shaped by various forces like technological and demographical shifts, the changes often have been so incremental that a large time period is often required to be considered to note any significant trend. But this has not always been the case. There have been certain instances in human history which have had a marked difference in how rapidly and effectively human talent could be mobilized and deployed to form the workforce.
Many of the 17th and 18th-century inventions like the steam engine, mass printing press, and several centuries later the establishment of work practices like ‘assembly chain’ have all left an imprint on how modern-day jobs pan out. Such incidents have pushed labor markets in completely new directions. Something similar seems to be happening currently.
Keeping in line with similar shifts in the past, the current trend in workforce shift can also be attributed to advancements in technology paired with the changing demographic preference. The mixture of two in the current age has led to the creation of a portion of the modern-day workforce that is mobile and seeks employment in traditional job description terms but rather on more project-based manner; a trend that the business world has fondly begun referring to as the ‘gig economy’.
The BBC defines the gig economy as “a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs.” And these can include a myriad of jobs but more importantly skills your organization could be missing out on.
The emerging trend
Fuelled by tech-driven companies in developed markets looking at reducing their cost of labor, the trend has since become a global phenomenon. Many developed economies today like America have almost 30 percent of their current workforce as a part of the gig economy, according to McKinsey, while the trend is picking up in places like Japan and various European economies. Even emerging economies like India, Indonesia and Singapore today boast a growing population of workers to prefer to work as part of the gig economy.
Such changes are majorly preferred from an employers standpoint sue its ability to reach out to talent with specific skill sets on a project (gig) basis and as result face lower labor cost while not comprising with the quality of work. But everyone is convinced of such benefits of the gig economy. Many companies still look at such usage of a mobile workforce with a doubtful eye while many question its final impact. That has brought into focus the important role that HR professionals play in ensuring that a gig economy makes sense for current day companies while ensuring that prospective employees don’t undergo exploitation. In efforts do so, many are relying on tech platforms and innovative HR practices to bring together skilled freelancers and ‘gig workers’ to one table and ensure a smooth flow of work.
Technology today has been a major force that’s disrupted many of the traditional business processes, one among them being the talent management models of the company. In light of a rising gig economy, HR professionals have turned to similar technologies. Digital talent platforms have been created within many companies to create a robust talent pipeline and with the use of AI and automation, jobs are assigned in an efficient manner. A recent example of this was Ernst and Young’s GigNow platform which many have hailed as the beginning of the ‘uberization’ of white collar jobs. GIgNow is a talent platform for professionals looking to work with the company on short-term projects or other flexible arrangements.
To successfully leverage the potential of the gig economy that doesn’t run on practices based on overwork and exploitation, companies’ talent management models need to evolve. In addition to using technology to effectively find talent, deploy work, monitor work, and maintain quality standards, HR professionals also need to build their own understanding of how the rules of the game are changing.
Today an agile workforce is more tuned to meet business demands which are smaller and require domain expertise. If larger business processes can be broken down to smaller projects, and in turn, talent can be specifically picked (match according to required skillset) to undertake the project. Such talent can provide more efficient results compared to an internal team whom to take on a new project require complete new training and learning opportunities. It's not that HR should stop building any capabilities within their company and just look for freelancers to undertake specific projects, but rather to find the right balance between the two. There also challenges in front of companies as the rise of gig economy has brought the question of skill level among working populace. A gig economy works perfectly if many in the gig economy themselves are skilled and educated enough to undertake the task. In cases where that is not the case, HR teams might have to look at bridging the gap through talent interventions.