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5 reasons gigging could be an HR game-changer

31st May 2016
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The much-touted gig economy, where contract experts work for shorter-term engagements, is underway.

A PwC report, The future of work, found that a huge 46% of HR professionals expect at least 20% of their workforce to be made up of contractors and temporary workers by 2020, even though less than one-third of employers are basing their future talent strategies on the rise of the portfolio career.

Indeed, in my 20 years’ operational expertise within generalist HR, I’ve never witnessed such a significant shift: client demand for part-time, interim staff is growing at an unprecedented rate.

Indeed, according to the Interim Management association (IMA), the use of interim staff has grown by 93% since pre-recession levels of 2006. We’re starting to see a groundswell of activity in this market with an increase in available talent. 

It’s no coincidence that the gig economy is having an impact on HR: it’s predominantly female-dominated – CIPD membership numbers puts the demographic make-up at 75% female, although clearly, not all HR professionals are members.

And as women are statistically more likely to take a career break and require more flexibility on their return, HR’s demographic make-up therefore naturally lends itself to being particularly open to the gig economy, with its lean towards an interim, agile working approach. 

Therefore, I see it as important that HR creates a strategy for its business and workforce needs, whilst preparing for the changes it’s likely to bring much closer to home.

So what are the changes the gig economy trend could bring to HR? 

1. Smaller, specialist talent pools

Whilst experienced HR professionals will continue to dominate the market due to their capabilities of working flexibly in project-based capacities, candidate feedback and Oakleaf’s own sense of the market tells us that highly specialist talent pools of staff working within niche sectors will shrink as business requirements grow more exacting.

I see the gig economy mirroring how it currently works in the legal sector, where there is a workforce silo of specialist, tight-knit HR professionals. Such staff possess specific experience with a track record of working in the legal profession, particularly within magic circle firms. The talent pool within these areas are almost always recycled as these individuals work their dedicated patch. 

Within the gig economy, this trend has the potential to intensify with professional pools of candidates working in seemingly closed-off silos - which may restrict entry to other candidates and ultimately shrink the headcount. In this situation, these pools will be smaller tomorrow than they are today.

2. Shift in recruitment budget priorities 

Whilst there has been a real squeeze in recruitment budgets, companies are starting to realise the business value of enlisting highly experienced – although costly - interim staff rather than cheaper but more junior PAYE employees. 

Indeed, the part-time desk at Oakleaf is seeing an enormous increase in the number of specialist, senior interim part-time HR roles to support ‘heavy lifting’ projects which can’t always be delivered or implemented by the incumbent HR team. 

And in some areas of HR such as investment banking, there is already a predominance of contractors due to their specific skills and expertise which can’t be grown in-house. These pools of professionals are highly influential but invariably, can pose an unknown threat to existing full-time staff with less experience. 

3. Changing working patterns

The traditional 9 to 5 working pattern isn’t always appealing to the average employee. Growing numbers of HR professionals want to work from home – and are showing repeatedly that they can improve productivity levels, especially once the daily commute is taken out of the equation. So the gig economy is likely to impact this change in working patterns: where you work doesn’t always have to affect how you perform as an individual or where you sit in the office or whether you are on payroll. Rather, it’s about what you deliver and achieve. Work-life balance is key – the ability to work flexibly – and to work productively. Flexi-working is on the increase.

4. Decline in learning & development

It’s likely that with fewer full-time HR staff to develop - because of increasing numbers of experienced interims and contractors work flexibly on larger numbers of short-term projects - the need for such L&D investment for HR teams will decrease. 

Indeed, it could be an easy-decision for businesses: why invest in less experienced staff when you can hire very experienced contractors who can start creating results straight away?  Why would businesses invest in L&D when the experience they need comes as part of the person they hire?

‘Giggers’ can also bring an alternative element of L&D into the mix. They can provide mentoring to less experienced colleagues which could work as support to existing training initiatives. 

5. Impact on brand reputation

As we all know, many employees’ experience of their own HR departments are not always positive. Staff are unlikely to approach HR if things are going well at work, rather it will be for issues around redundancy, disciplinary proceedings or sickness absence.
So whilst some employees have certainly experienced businesses parachuting in interim HR professionals to ‘fix’ an issue before leaving again, many more businesses bring in those who really do add value to the business. Indeed, existing, less experienced employees don’t tend to bring the experience of other workplaces with them, so there are non-tangible things that an interim contractor can bring about instead. A highly experienced person can bring an edge, adding additional clout to help upskill and professionalise the work and results, which benefits the team, company and its brand.  

So what’s in the crystal ball?

Ultimately, I see the gig economy bringing about a sea change. At a time when L&D and training opportunities are declining and the demand for flexible working continues to grow, we are going to see a shift in workforce demographics: as the internal headcount declines, the external interim headcount will continue to rise. 

Market signals we have identified over time across many sectors, not just HR, are showing a trend towards a lighter permanent market and a growing prevalence of projects. And considering the substantial business cost an interim brings – between £500-750 per day - and the increasing popularity of the interim market, it’s clear that businesses understand the benefit. 

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