Workforce Visibility

3 Contingent Workforce Priorities Leaders Can’t Ignore

There’s no denying that the global economy has been on a rollercoaster in recent years. Yet the continuous need for companies around the world to acquire great talent has never fluctuated – even though the types of workers and skills needed are constantly changing.

If your company is like many businesses across the globe, the skills you seek may increasingly come in the form of non-employee talent: a contingent worker, contractor, freelancer or outsourced service. The opportunity to achieve business value through the contingent workforce is great, the flexibility is essential and the scope of available skills available is significant.

Across all industries, organizations are finding that engaging flexible talent today is much different than it was just five years ago and applying yesterday’s thinking to current conditions is risky at best. The right approach to securing workers — with the speed, cost and quality needed to deliver results — will play a large role in business success and your overall workforce strategy moving forward.

To address the demands of a complex landscape and leverage the flexible workforce, organizations need to understand the dynamics at play as they refine their approach to talent engagement. To help guide the conversation, we have identified three areas of challenge and actions companies can take to reposition their contingent workforce strategy for a competitive advantage:

  1. Rethink what talent means and how it delivers value to the business
  2. Get a better understanding of your contingent workforce
  3. Stop chasing process fixes and start building workforce readiness

1. Rethink Workforce Strategy and How it Delivers Value to the Business

The current challenges facing workforce leaders are complex. Whether you are thinking about workers from the perspective of HR, a business line, procurement or the C-suite, the timing and cost must be right and the outcome has to be on target. 

These challenges have pushed companies to rethink what talent means to them and how effective management of that talent delivers value to the organization. Consider the following implications that may influence your workforce transformation strategy.

Expanded Scope: Traditional Hiring No Longer Supports an Entire Talent Strategy

As many companies reconsider whether acquiring new employees is the best solution for their talent needs, they often realize that a fixed job role with a long list of responsibilities and permanent addition to the payroll may not be the only answer.

Exploring the contingent workforce provides a flexible solution to many of today’s workforce-related challenges. Flexible resources have the skills companies need. They can solve immediate demands. They can be scaled back as needed. As a result, contingent workers are no longer a nice-to-have option; they are a core necessity for doing business.


Different Landscape: Competition for Critical Skills Has Changed

Compared to demand, the supply of workers in some fields remains low and new required skills continue to challenge not only skills identification, but skills development. The recent artificial intelligence (AI) boom has shone a light on the need for this specific expertise. However, the talent marketplace is not yet scaled to be able to meet urgent needs. In addition to competing for in demand skill sets, leading companies are working to develop these skills in parallel to identifying them in the marketplace.

Traditional boundaries do not always apply when competing for workers. In some industries, such as in healthcare, the need for workers varies by skill. In other fields, such as IT, the demand for talent spans multiple sectors for workers with transferable skills.

In the past, hiring decision-makers could rely on rigorous requirements, years of industry experience and college degrees to point their way to the right talent. Today, those same approaches may stand between them and the workers they need. Many times, those workers are qualified people who do not apply because they do not meet a listed job requirement that is not necessarily relevant to the work.

Renewed Values: Workforce Wellbeing, Inclusivity Become Business Priorities

For decades, companies have promoted the value of wellness among employees, however, in recent years, wellbeing and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have become business imperatives. Availability of mental health resources, flexibility for family and childcare, and a focus on communication are now widely practiced strategies for maintaining engagement and productivity.

The cultural shift toward DEI has also gained traction. Transforming your workforce has taken on new meaning with organizations becoming more active in building inclusion in the workforce and in building a presence in the community.

The Takeaway: Question Everything You Assumed About Contingent Workforce Practices

To address the changing priorities of the workforce, companies have begun to rethink their assumptions about attracting, engaging and retaining flexible talent in our ever-fluctuating business environment.

  • Ask what hiring really means: That next hire could just as easily be a flexible worker as a traditional employee – the mindset among all stakeholders must be open to all options. Start the conversation to bring HR, procurement, line-of-business managers and leadership into the same mission.

  • Reshape requirements: Rigorous job requirements and a daunting screening process will not sustain a strategy for securing either employees or flexible workers with in-demand skills. Focus instead on essential must-haves that allow you to cast a wide net for workers with transferable skills outside of your industry.
  • Look for actions, not words, to define culture: Inclusivity and worker wellbeing are not principles; they are conditions built on action. Show how the organization is taking action today, how it is influencing the workplace and community, and how others are embracing the organization as a force for social good. The worker and the community are often the best, most authentic voices for promoting a company’s reputation in the eyes of potential, future talent.

  • Leverage flexible workers for more than stop-gap solutions to talent needs: Flexible talent includes more than on-demand workers to fill open low-skill, high-volume requisitions. With many hard-to-find skills more readily available through contract labor than employee talent, organizations cannot afford to limit their use to traditional temp work. Look to the contingent workforce as a potential source of talent for all types of roles and skill levels.

2. Get a Better Understanding of Your Contingent Workforce

Whether they recognize it or not, organizations find themselves adjusting to a new world of work and a new set of values that the contingent workforce brings to the table. It is a world of work that evolved over two decades of steadily improving technologies and practices.

How do companies connect today’s pressures on business to the changes they need to make to their talent strategy? The answer requires an understanding of the growth and trajectory of the extended workforce and, most importantly, how that direction will position the relationship between organizations and their workers. Consider the following trends that underscore the new realities of extended worker talent.

Evolution, Growth and Disruption of Workforce Creates ‘New Normal’ for Talent

The evolving practices of the last few decades have expanded employers’ reach to the entire supply of available talent. Companies improved their ability to leverage the right person, at the right cost, for the right job – regardless of work style – to achieve the outcomes they need. And organizations slowly adopted those practices as they competed for a short supply of talent with critical skills, boosting their reach to the non-employee workforce.

Following the 2008 recession, the portion of the labor supply referred to as the contingent workforce grew and changed.  At the time, that growth stemmed from necessity on the part of workers and companies’ unwillingness to rehire permanent employees. While necessity is still a factor, many workers today also take on contingent work as a matter of choice, and companies may find themselves competing for flexible talent that was more readily available in the past.

Today, the term “contingent worker” still includes traditional temporary labor, but it also typically refers to a broader spectrum of workers supplied through a staffing partner, or who may be freelancers or independent contractors.

In 2020, the pandemic brought with it a sudden shift in business conditions. Disruption shattered the physical connection between workers and offices as remote work became the norm. Loss of business, layoffs and furloughs magnified the importance of costs and results for every activity.

Today, in the wake of “The Great Resignation” and uncertain economic times, companies place a premium on doing the absolute best work and achieving specific outcomes with the most effective use of resources and budget. At the same time, many are looking to the future and new ways to achieve growth; including new markets, changes to products, services and pricing, all of which will have an impact on the work to be done, the workers needed to do it and the strategy for delivering results.

The Takeaway: Don’t Let Temp-Think Cut Off Your Talent Supply

Moving forward, talent leaders will act on new assumptions about contingent workforce values that were not true in the past. Keys to success include a clear understanding of the major issues at play and a willingness to adjust to changing demands.

  • Look at the extended workforce as more than contingent workers and agencies: The contingent workforce encompasses the entire universe of extended worker talent, including freelancers, independent contractors and services providers. Consider all options when a talent need is identified and then determine the best fit based on the ability to deliver the right outcomes.
  • Rethink what qualified means: Traditional notions of jobs and job requirements are also evolving, as organizations think more in terms of outcomes than in responsibilities. First, skills evolve quickly, and in many cases, the relevance of a particular skill may only last several years. Second, traits such as flexibility, aptitude for learning and interpersonal skills may take precedence in projects where changing demands are expected.

    Rethink “qualified” as “having potential and able to learn quickly” and then provide the resources to enable the worker to do just that. The result will be a more agile workforce, and the ability to act quickly on changing business demands. The approach applies to contingent workforce suppliers, with a great example from an Allegis Group affiliate organization, CareerCircle which provides assessment, support and learning resources to help workers identify areas of aptitude and develop relevant skills.
  • Focus on cultivating talent readiness: Thanks to the dynamics of business today, three- and five-year strategic plans are giving way to quarterly strategies. Organizations that can shift quickly to meet changing talent demands enjoy a competitive advantage over those who cannot. That advantage is what defines talent readiness. It not only refers to the ability to access new people with new skills, but also being able to quickly assess that talent.

3. Stop Chasing Process Fixes and Start Building Workforce Readiness

When it comes to engaging talent and managing contingent workforce spend, companies have historically looked for ways of evolving processes to deliver bottom-line value. The rise of the managed service provider (MSP) solution grew out of such a desire for process improvement.

By placing the engagement of all contingent workforce suppliers and their associated budgets under a single umbrella of spend management, an MSP enables consistent processes and pricing that translate into cost savings. But today, process improvement and cost savings are only part of the story.

When business survival and growth are at stake, every investment in people and resources must deliver on the outcomes an organization needs to achieve. An advanced MSP approach, provided by a forward-thinking solutions partner, is expected to connect better processes and improved business outcomes. Those outcomes still include cost savings, but they also include enhanced talent readiness. Keys to success include access to talent, freedom from compliance issues, visibility into data and processes and overall preparedness to align talent to new business needs.

To realize the full potential of an advanced contingent workforce strategy, look at the evolution of practices over the last few decades. Once understanding the approaches and reasons for applying them, procurement and HR planners can implement the right strategy to deliver results with predictable costs and reliable performance.

The Persistent Past: Ad-Hoc, Siloed Workforce Engagement Remains a Temptation

Hiring workers to address tactical needs will always be an important part of business operations. In the past, hiring managers directly engaged their contingent workforce suppliers at the department- or line-of-business level. With little connection to other managers or departments making similar engagements, managers paid widely varying rates for people to do the same work.

As companies grew sophisticated in directing their contingent workforce spend through centralized strategies, managers continued to find ways of securing workers on their own. The temptation continues today, as managers naturally seek familiar paths to get work done quickly, and in some cases, attempt to allocate spend outside the view of procurement oversight. An effective workforce strategy must provide the means to keep managers on track and avoid rogue spend, delivering the same convenience along with improvements in speed, cost and results.

Advances in Processes: Cost-driven Strategies Focus on Enterprise Savings

To better manage their growing network of contingent workforce suppliers, companies engage MSPs to implement programs that standardize bill rates for roles and skills and provide a governance structure for accountability and outcomes.

The traditional MSP model supported by vendor management system (VMS) technology continues to be viewed as a means for cost savings and a resource for the enterprise procurement function to manage contingent workforce spend.

Moving forward, the use of flexible workers, regardless of cost, must contribute to an organization’s ability to adapt to changing – sometimes unforeseen – demands on the business. With that in mind, leading MSP solutions and their customers bring workforce readiness and agility into the equation, giving organizations the capability to adjust rapidly to business demands.

A Next-Generation Focus: Companies Look for a Complete Strategy for Talent Readiness

Companies continue to work toward being more flexible in their talent strategies and doing so in a way that is natural to the way work gets done. Managers should not be limited to their own contingent supplier network or to their channels for freelancers, services providers, or other sources for the talent they need.

The next-generation approach makes all channels to talent available through a common system and program. Organizations can access the right resource, not simply the resource that is available in their view. Advances in technology help make this level of visibility into the contingent workforce possible, as innovations in data science and AI applications navigate all talent sources through one field of view.

Takeaway: Turn the Contingent Workforce into a Core Talent Readiness Function

Companies are looking at a holistic approach to the contingent workforce as the strategy that will carry them forward in a world where both predictable trends and unpredictable events influence the work to be done.

  • Reach beyond isolated, incremental improvements: Transformation is the driving force in a contingent workforce strategy. No improvement effort, whether related to technology, organizational structure, processes or activity, is an end unto itself. Bring together disparate sources of data into one system, leverage expert guidance to identify resources and rethink how work gets done. These are the actions that will carry value beyond tactical cost savings and isolated outcomes.

    Look to an MSP partner to lead every project, experience and activity forward toward one critical goal: the ability to access the right resource, for the right work, quickly and cost-effectively. That is talent readiness, and it will separate many successful organizations from those that fall behind in the post-pandemic economy.

  • Make the hiring manager happy: The task of transforming workforce engagement does not sit with the manager who needs the talent. That person’s job is to execute the talent acquisition process and make sure the project is delivered on time and on budget. Along the way, that person should have no obstacles between determining the work and securing the workers.

    An effective talent engagement function accommodates the complexity of today’s environment, including the multiple channels and worker types, but it does not mire the manager in the process. A human expert, acting as a talent advisor or Workforce Business Partner, serves as the contact point to create a simplified experience and guide the solution toward options that may not have been considered before.

    Can an outsourced service deliver results more reliably than a collection of individual contingent workers? Is a freelancer better for the job? Or should the work be divided differently into tasks that spread to more specialized talent to execute? The talent advisor can provide the right answers for a practical approach, simply and clearly, based on data about the skills required and the available solutions.

    Looking ahead, advanced technology and processes will define the rules of smart engagement, but human expertise will be the central driver of adoption, user satisfaction and results.
  • Give the candidate and contingent worker a reason to commit: Engagement and retention of flexible talent are just as important as with traditional employees. For example, consider why a prospective job applicant should choose your organization as a place to work. Now, adjust the same question to a flexible candidate: why should someone take the assignment you are offering instead of others that may be on the table?

    The “assignment value proposition” is the reason contractors will choose your organization for their next gig. Are you giving them a challenge that will expand their abilities? Do you have a great team or support for skills development and access to other opportunities within your company? Do your contingent workforce suppliers provide the right opportunities to attract talent with a commitment to candidate care? The answers make a difference in creating better access to the talent supply and adjusting quickly to new demands for skills and resources.

  • Give procurement, HR and leadership the tools to win: The most sophisticated technology and best practices are only as good as the results they deliver to the organization. And those outcomes depend on the key stakeholders who can act as champions to gain buy-in and adoption for a contingent workforce strategy. What’s in it for these stakeholders? The answer is simple: the opportunity to achieve a win.
    • For procurement, a win is the opportunity to provide real numbers on cost savings or their contribution to business value. It is also the ability to provide strategic impact beyond the traditional expectations as budget gatekeepers. The right contingent workforce function arms procurement with the means to document key results such as the delivery of services, expansion of resource management, speed of response to a business need and compliance with evolving regulations.
    • For HR, a holistic contingent workforce strategy can align best practices, such as employer brand, candidate experience and worker engagement, with a previously unconnected contingent workforce population.
    • For leadership, numbers matter. Are projects being brought to completion on time and on budget? Are initiatives staying on track with the people needed to deliver the work? Does the company have the right headcount, cost strategy and skills to support strategic goals.

The key to creating stakeholder champions is communication, data and results. An effective strategy supported by an advanced MSP partnership provides the right tools for all involved decision-makers to achieve the successes they seek in each of their roles.

Moving from Contingent Workforce Management to Holistic Extended Workforce Strategy

Aligning technology, resources and talent supply – and humanizing a complex engagement process to make it user-friendly – is no easy task. But that’s what organizations will need to do as they engage the flexible workforce to its full potential.

Even today, most MSP capabilities cover different aspects of contingent workforce best practices yet fall short of putting all elements together to deliver true workforce readiness.

Allegis Global Solutions’ holistic approach to the contingent workforce brings all extended workforce categories into a single management process, encompassing freelancers, workforce suppliers, contractors and outsourced services. The framework is supported by our Acumen® Intelligent Workforce Platform, a technology platform that brings data from all sources together for one view of the resource supply. A key to the success of this model is a central advisor that provides the expertise to manage the complexity and help companies drive informed, decisive strategies for applying the right resource to achieve the desired outcome.

This solution provides the capabilities to take on every engagement and management challenge and bring the promise of the contingent workforce to life. No two organizations are the same, and so the journey toward a complete solution depends on a provider that gives a company access to all the tools available to achieve success.

For organizations seeking a path toward better workforce capabilities, rethinking talent strategy, meeting the workforce on its own terms and building talent readiness for the future, are all priorities that cannot be ignored. With the right contingent workforce strategy, companies now have the opportunity to meet those priorities directly and position themselves to achieve a true competitive advantage.

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    Written by Tony Lupone
    Tony Lupone serves as the Executive Director of Operations for MSP at Allegis Global Solutions (AGS), where he is responsible for the continued success of AGS’ service lines. Tony and his team work to provide high-touch, innovative customer solutions, while implementing AGS best practices and expanding our best-in-class offerings for stronger program adoption and expansion. With more than 25 years of experience in talent and workforce management, Tony has helped develop numerous leaders across our business lines.