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Contingent workforce: Potential lifeline for labour market challenges

Organisations are experiencing difficulties in attracting and retaining top talent, amidst skills shortages, an economic crisis, and layoffs. Businesses must consider leveraging different types of workers to continue operational success.

We’ve all heard about the ‘Great Resignation’, and cries that the workforce is becoming smaller thanks to a steady stream of unfilled vacancies. But there are other issues facing the UK’s labour market too. The NHS staffing crisis and Big Tech layoffs have hit the headlines in the last few months, putting significant pressure on companies across every sector.

At the same time, the UK economy is facing serious difficulties. 93% of British people are experiencing an increase in their cost of living in comparison to this time last year. Many have suggested that this could lead to a mass return to the office, or even people coming out of retirement and re-entering the workforce. This appetite for work contradicts the theory that workforces are shrinking, making it difficult for HR leaders to understand what is truly happening within their organisations. It’s time to look deeper, and rethink how we define the world of work.

Reassessing the causes of workforce strain
The tendency is to place the blame for workforce woes elsewhere and chalk the labour market  challenges up to an external market issue: the economic climate, a lack of employee loyalty, or something entirely different.

Understandably, it can be difficult to look inwardly at one’s own organisation. But, when taking this view, it is also easy to forget that external market perceptions are formed by individual organisations and their workforces.

While it’s true that companies are finding it challenging to attract and keep top talent, the idea that a lack of quality candidates is to blame is a myth. The issue is not that workers have changed—it’s that employers haven’t. Employees had their opportunity to implement a change of pace and a re-evaluation of priorities during the pandemic. Now, it is time for businesses to do the same.

Business should keep up with employee trends
Where yesterday’s workers valued stability above all else, today’s workers crave freedom and flexibility when choosing roles. To remain competitive, businesses must follow their employees’ lead. Organisations that choose an outdated offering for their staff risk losing out when it comes to employee experience and retention.

Today’s workers are looking for a different experience from their workplaces. They are pursuing careers at companies that value their unique skill sets, and they want the freedom to use those skills to advance innovative products, services, and brands. To fulfil these new career priorities, workers are turning to flexible work arrangements (e.g., contingent roles, freelance opportunities, and contracted positions) in droves, and most employers aren’t keeping up.

Introducing truly flexible working
Flexible positions are about more than the opportunity to work from home and at varying hours. Flexibility is about giving workers the opportunity to fully align their lifestyle with their passions. One approach to truly flexible working is becoming part of the contingent workforce. This workforce is comprised of highly skilled, experienced professionals who choose to take on short-term assignments because their talents allow them to do so. Whether these employees are looking to take time off between jobs, work for themselves as a contractor or consultant, or spend more time with their families – the desire to use their talents on their terms is evident.

Embracing the flexible workforce isn’t just good for employees. It can also help companies secure top talent while streamlining teams for optimal efficiency. Just as these arrangements provide flexibility for workers, they give employers the freedom to change course if needed. They are agile and flexible, making them easy to scale as a company’s needs change.

Some businesses have been leveraging the power of extended workforces for decades. Tech industry giants like Google have been utilising extended or contingent workforces for some time now and reaping significant rewards for their willingness to push for a more innovative approach to recruitment. They’ve embraced the extended workforce and posted record profits while doing it.

Break the workforce management mould
So, if professionals are waking up to the benefits of taking on contracted work, and some of the biggest companies in the world are too, why aren’t all employers? Because they think it’s easier to stick with the status quo.

They’re not wrong, of course. Doing nothing is always easier than doing something — but complacency comes at a cost. In this case, the costs of continuing as usual will add up fast in the form of lost opportunities.

With contingent workforce growth likely to continue into the coming decades, employers should  realise that, soon, their “contingent employees” will just be their “employees.” Those who resist the evolution of the workforce at this crucial juncture will quickly find themselves unable to compete.

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