May 17, 2022

A Look at the Evolving Demands of Contingent Workers

The share of workers doing some kind of freelance, contract, or other independent work continues to grow. Remote work opportunities have made it easier for contingent workers to tackle new projects from anywhere in the world, and have also transformed how workers think about the jobs they do.

Companies are also seeking to hire more contingent workers in order to control costs, says Brian Kropp, distinguished vice president at Gartner. As contingent roles open up and companies seek talent to fill them, HR teams need to consider what contingent workers want — and how to meet those expectations in the best way for the company. Choosing the right tech tools can help HR teams hire contingent workers for skills and nurture learning within the workplace.

A Shifting Contingent Workforce

Contingent workers are becoming the norm rather than the exception. While estimates of the number of workers who do solely contingent work remain low, an ever-growing number of workers do some kind of freelance, gig, or contract work in addition to conventional employment.

Contingent workers are no longer solely young people seeking experience while they look for their first long-term position. While many contingent workers are young, a growing number are older, including retirees who choose to reenter the workforce on a contingency basis in order to better control their work hours and projects, writes Katharine G. Abraham, a former commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and a distinguished professor at the University of Maryland. The shifting demographics of the contingent workforce means more diversity in the way contingent workers approach and understand their work.

The move to remote work and virtual environments during the pandemic also piqued interest among skilled workers in doing contingent work, because such work is perceived to offer greater flexibility and control of the work schedule.

In fact, “complete flexibility in their working hours and location” is so important to today’s workers that 88 percent of respondents in a Citrix study said they looked for it when seeking a new job. In another study, 29 percent of respondents said they’d quit their job if their employer said they could no longer work remotely, and 62 percent said they’d give preference to employers that offer remote work, writes digital PR manager Max Woolf.

In short, workers have discovered they can do their work, build skills, and advance their careers in a more flexible environment than many conventional employment positions allow. They’re taking advantage of these opportunities, even when it means joining the contingent workforce.

As a result, the contingent workforce continues to grow. “There’s been an expansion in the types of contract workers as well as more of them being engaged globally, which adds greater complexity with regard to legal concerns, compliance, and pay issues,” says Stacey Harris, chief research officer and managing partner of Sapient Insights Group. A combination of HR staff experience and the right tech tools can help manage these complexities.

small tree growing in garden with morning light; contingent workers concept

Understanding Contingent Workers’ Demands

Contingent work appeals to an ever-growing number of skilled workers for several reasons. “At the highest level, it empowers individuals to create their own career paths without restrictions,” writes Doug Leeby, CEO at workforce platform Beeline. Companies need to understand that one reason workers choose contingent positions is to harness that self-directed desire to learn and grow.

A large change in recent years is how contingent workers see themselves in relation to the companies they serve. An increasing number of workers see themselves as long-term employees, regardless of whether they receive a 1099 or a W-2 at the end of the year, writes HCM Technology Report’sMark Feffer. As a result, these workers see themselves as part of the company for which they work, and increasingly expect companies to see them the same way.

Rather than being treated as temporary support, contingent workers want to be treated as long-term assets and team members. “The more these workers feel a sense of belonging to your organization, the more they’ll want to deliver work that positively impacts it,” writes Antonio Barraza, a contingent workforce expert at Innovative Employee Solutions.

Putting company culture first is also essential to maintaining good working connections, regardless of the mix of conventional, contingent, in-person, and remote workers on any given team. Communicating a company’s mission and values, creating engagement opportunities between workers, and offering real ways to build skills and expand diversity each play a key role in maintaining culture and attracting contingent workers, writes Innovative Employee Solutions Vice President of Business Development Sara Jensen.

Organizations that treat their contingent workers as contributors to the companies’ core goals stand to benefit from workers’ skills growth and dedication to the learning process. By contrast, organizations that treat their contingent workers as short-term resources stand to lose out on learning and skill growth in the long term.

“Whatever the worker learns on the job walks out the door with them when they leave,” writes occupational health psychologist Erin Eatough. Eatough warns that companies relying too heavily on contingent workers may also neglect the opportunity to train their own workforces as long as the contingent worker is present. The result is an employed workforce whose skills are increasingly obsolete, and who depend ever more on the input of contingent workers in order to complete routine job duties.

Treetop with green leaves shot from below; contingent workers evolving demands

How to Nurture a Contingent Workforce

To manage a contingent workforce effectively, companies need to understand how these workers fit into the employment mix today.

Traditionally, contingent workers were seen as add-ons to core staff, addressing projects and challenges outside the workday norm. Today, however, contingent workers can be found in a wide range of positions.

“The reality is this workforce increasingly consists of highly skilled workers who couldn’t be more critical in companies’ war for talent, with billions of dollars of associated spending,” writes Kevin Akeroyd, CEO at integrated workforce management platform PRO Unlimited.

As contingent workers become a concentrated repository of essential skills, companies seeking new talent will need to focus on hiring for skills, whether the role is seen as a contingent role or a long-term conventional employment relationship.

“The global challenge in acquiring and retaining talent requires companies to be more strategic – knowing not only what qualities and skills to recruit for, but also how to recruit more efficiently and effectively,” says Rebecca Lea Ray, executive vice president of human capital at The Conference Board. Artificial intelligence offers a way to identify the needed skills and recruit people who have those skills, as well as the ability to learn related skills as needed throughout their careers.

AI-enabled hiring software can help human resources departments integrate contingent workers onto existing teams as well. Predictive analytics can provide insight into how a contingent worker’s skills mesh with the team and department, along with suggestions for how to better combine the contingent worker’s abilities with the role, team, and organization as a whole.

Skills-based hiring, backed by AI, can lead to better onboarding of contingent workers. When the right tools are used to supplement the search for candidates with the right skill sets, hiring managers and HR staff can focus on conversations with contingent workers. They can talk not only about the role and the work involved but also about the onboarding process — a key part of building a healthy relationship with a contingent worker from the start, notes HR Bartender founder Sharlyn Lauby.

Human resources officers and their teams can’t replace themselves with technology. They can, however, partner with the right tech tools to gain better insights into contingent workers’ expectations. With these insights, leaders can plan hiring and management initiatives that put contingent workers’ skills to the best use for the organization.

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