Why It’s Time To Boot The Stigma Around Contingent Work

KellyOCG President Tammy Browning explores key findings from their 2022 Global Workforce Report – Re:work – and reveals why a robust, contingent workforce strategy is increasingly crucial to business success. 

KellyOCG’s recent Global Workforce Report surveyed 1,000 senior executives across 12 countries, creating a comprehensive picture of the issues keeping global leaders up at night. Some of the findings echoed what we’re hearing from clients and candidates every day – both leaders and workers are searching for greater flexibility in the ways they engage with work; something we’re calling ‘the life-work shift.’ While other findings were more surprising – 28% of the leaders we surveyed believed the complexity of hybrid work will drive most employees back on-site. 

However, one key theme that emerged across the report was an increasing need for workforce agility. It was one of the dynamics where the Vanguards – organisations that are outperforming on customer and employee satisfaction and profitability – are leading the market. In a hiring climate shaped by the Great Resignation and talent scarcity, Vanguards are increasingly turning to contingent labour to provide the flexibility and agility they need – 52% say they have a clearly articulated contingent talent strategy, and 40% actively encourage the use of contingent workers in their business.  

This makes sense when we look at the changing makeup of the overall workforce. Fiverr’s recent 2022 Freelance Economic Impact Report found that there were 6.3 million independent professionals in the U.S. as of 2021, representing 3.9% of the labour force and earning $247 billion in revenue (up from $234 billion in 2020.) Not only is contingent labour an increasingly important way to access hard-to-find skills, but it’s also where some of the best workers are choosing to be as they search for ever greater flexibility. 

Despite the significant benefits of tapping into a growing contingent workforce, some organisations are still hesitant – we found only 26% of non-Vanguards plan to increase their use of contingent talent by at least 25% over the next five years. There also seems to be a lingering stigma that contingent workers are somehow less talented or less skilled than full-time employees – just 32% of non-Vanguards perceive contingent workers as equally qualified as permanent talent. This assumption is not only incorrect but it’s a mentality that can restrict business potential.  

Scale quickly in a dynamic market

Contingent workers allow organisations to scale more quickly, matching the ebb and flow of a dynamic market while avoiding the commitment of a recurring expense where work is irregular or project-based. This ability to grow and shrink a workforce rapidly is what makes contingent communities so invaluable – particularly for smaller organisations that are exploring new opportunities. There is also a huge benefit in embracing contingent-to-perm models – this process helps both employers and workers assess if a relationship is a good fit for the longer term and can reduce turnover. 

Like many organisations, MRC Global is in an exciting new phase of high growth creating a huge demand for talent and forcing them to rethink how they hire. “Rather than try to build out our own talent acquisition function, we’ve formed a strategic alignment with external partners to develop recruiting-as-a-service.” 

Crucially, it is combined with the targeted use of contingent talent.

“The contingency concept allows us to really move fast,” says Malcolm O’Neal, SVP of Human Resources. The new approach is helping MRC Global scale at pace and recognise the benefits of these partnerships. “Now, we’ve got people who eat, sleep and dream recruiting,” O’Neal adds. “Whereas if we were trying to do it internally, we could only be as good as what we know.” 

Plug in expertise fast

30% of Vanguards surveyed in the KellyOCG Global Workforce Report said they use contingent talent to enhance their workforce with specialist skills. Work typically moves at a faster pace when it’s done by subject matter experts, enabling full-time resources to focus more effectively on core work. This allows companies to maximise their productivity and make progress on their objectives without investing in highly specialised training. Organisations should be asking, “What specialist tasks can I outsource to ensure we meet our business objectives?”

Preparing for a contingent future

As the freelance economy continues to grow, more and more companies are rethinking their approach to fit the changing landscape of work. It’s no longer enough to have a few contractors for special projects or to think about temporary workers only in terms of seasonal rushes; we’re going to see a shift toward an increasingly large and integral contingent workforce. At KellyOCG, we expect to quickly see companies engage between 30 to 50% of their workforce through contingent channels, and organisations must get their labour strategy right today to prepare for tomorrow.

Our clients often find that one of the biggest barriers they face in engaging contingent labour is their own policy on independent workers. That’s why it can be hugely beneficial to bring both HR and legal to the table to figure out if a business could be hindering its own ability to engage skilled workers safely. There can also be significant value in consulting with external talent experts to identify opportunities to bring contingent talent into an organisation more effectively.  

As business leaders, it’s time to banish the stigma around contingent work; a utopian total talent approach would be one where we remove the labels of contingent and perm altogether – though this may be years or decades away. The truth is that this isn’t a trend that leaders can afford to wait on – getting your contingent workforce strategy right today could be crucial to accessing the skills you need tomorrow.

Is it time to reassess your contingent thinking? 

About the author: Tammy Browning is president of KellyOCG, and is responsible for the company’s $10 billion global Managed Service Provider portfolio, which includes embedded solutions such as Services Procurement, payroll outsourcing, the global Recruitment Process Outsourcing practice, and the Ayers Group outplacement. With more than 20 years of experience, Tammy is a visionary leader with a passion for operational excellence.  

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