The gig economy: preparing for the disruptive forces shaping work
Mike Hammer – aka ‘The Gig Doctor’ – outlines how ongoing economic and societal events are disrupting the workplace and shifting skills requirements. Is HR ready to respond and adjust accordingly?
A recent publication from Deloitte, ‘Flipping the narrative toward a brighter future,’ is worth reading if you’ve not already. The article explores an alternative to job-killing automation tech. While the ideas and concepts offered seem to portend a brighter future of work, it may be moderately unrealistic.
The central proposition of the Deloitte article, however, is that there are alternatives to be examined to dire predictions of future extensive automation of jobs creating social unrest.
Setting a baseline
To examine any perceived alternatives, one must have both a baseline of understanding of the shifts in external economic values and internal skills required to succeed in a changing competitive environment.
As they change, we should develop a means to balance the needs for full-time skills versus contracted high demand skills when and where needed – which is known as a blended workforce.
The good, the bad, the ugly
Economy indicators recently released in the US show no end in site to what may be the greatest economic boom with no inflation in its history. However, there are not enough qualified candidates with skills to fill millions of job openings.
This top-to-bottom economic prosperity is only possible in a free society with the right economic and regulatory policies. The same formula for similar economic success struggles to find a footing in other developed nations – such as the UK, France, Italy, Greece and Spain.
With the continued growth of fewer than two children per family households in the US and other developed nations, there may never be enough qualified people to meet the growing needs of a nation’s labour force. Hence why we’re seeing increased use of digital technology to allow more applications of automation, which then reduces the opportunities of a lesser educated and lower skilled labour force.
Within the EU, transparent borders are allowing mobility and migration of both skilled and unskilled workers. Economic and assimilation policies, however, vary within each member country. Thus an abundance of immigration with nonapplicable work skills can increase social burdens and unrest.
Economic growth has slowed in the EU, China, Japan and many developed nations with few good signs of a change for the better. A new rendition of 'Coming to America' by the thousands from these countries is underway, as people seek to share in its prosperity.
This influx of South American populations is similar to the recent massive migration flows from the middle east resulting from the Syrian War, in a bid to escape the ravages caused by IS terrorists.
Sorting out information overload
A lot of opinions, speculation and, yes, some facts too, have been published about the impact disruptive digitalisation will have on how future work is completed for success. The commonly used label is ‘future work'. Here’s what we know about this phenomenon:
New technology innovation no longer produces as many jobs as it eliminates.
The prognosis of artificial intelligence (AI) coupled with new tech will, without a doubt, kill off more job roles than it will create.
Governments and politicians worldwide have real concerns about growing populations and migrations of unemployables. Some are now proposing universal incomes for those who become unemployable by tech automation or immigration. More restrictions of skill set mobility will logically follow to control inflow migrations.
Many enterprises are allocating more funds offering re-education and reskilling of those who will be displaced by automation.
We continue to have a growing pool of those able to work without the skills for available work roles. Commonly labeled the ‘skills gap.’
More college graduates with degrees are not necessarily THE answer to skills required for future jobs – some jobs which have yet to be created.
Improved recruiting processes only means more companies are still chasing fewer ‘skills qualified’ candidates for full-time work.
Some HR technologies include and track temps, freelancers, and independents involved in projects as needed, like Microsoft’s Office 365 Freelancer Add-in Tool Kit.
Preparing for disruption
With this baseline, HR will need to identify and dissect six events that change people power and skills requirements and show how to prepare for them. These disruptive events are:
Wide acceptance of any software application that shifts repetitive tasks away from desktop PCs to smart devices like mobiles, iPads and watches (or away from a fixed location to a mobile one).
Early adopters’ use of online applications providing convenient consumer ordering that will impact your company’s product(s) or market share.
An increase in capital expenditures for tech automation and AI intended to lower the cost of labour.
A dramatic change in corporate culture to preserve the human dignity of work and to develop alternative options for those without relevant work skills.
Any significant government policy shifts that would increase the cost and delivery of healthcare, regulation of the internet, privacy on the web, and energy production or another overreach of government into the private sector.
An internal recognition that broader use of temps, freelancers and independents is inevitable and will increase the need for more collaborative tools and remote shared work environments.
All employers need and want employees with specific skills at any predictable time, but not necessarily 100% of the time to stay relevant and competitive at a profit.
The best practice solutions for skills gaps is using downtime, when the talent is less than 100% needed, to engage employees with training intended to eradicate misplaced skills. For the most part, this time-tested approach to re-skilling has worked – at a cost.
However, as highlighted above, the environment and processes to complete work are changing rapidly. More likely described as a moving target. HR and executives are beginning to question if these re-skilling methods are still applicable and can be relevant at a specific time.
The time and cost commitment of instructional design targeted at one firm's skills gap, which changes over time, is often complicated and sometimes hard to justify. This is especially true if the skills needed are temporary for a defined time in the future and not requiring the cost of recruitment and labour overhead cost of a full-time position.
The need for a skills gap analysis
As stated in my series Defining a mapping process for HR leaders on the path to future work, the route to future work is NOT visible in rear view mirrors. Events which can be forecast as having a future impact on your product(s) or service(s) in any market sector will change the need for labour and skills.
Getting to an internal determination of an enterprise’s skills gap is not only complicated and time-consuming but MUST be done. Without this data, it is not possible to define your current internal skills gap nor apply any remedies to future skills required when and where needed. To achieve a baseline, it is imperative to:
Understand the symptoms of misplaced skills internally and in the more significant labour market at large.
Understand the potential business case presented to remedy those misplaced skills within your company.
Develop a framework and process to put the right skills in the right place at the right time. Traditionally this means managing internal talent and providing upskill learning that aligns with company objectives.
Recognise that there are more options to use talent on-demand in an expanding gig economy when and where needed.
Ask if the job role specs require a full-time position to accomplish and align with company goals. If no, consider using a blended workforce model with talent acquired on demand, where needed.
The variance in when you will need critical skills and for how long is paramount for HR to grasp to meet future skilled labour requirements based on changed external factors. We all know that the only constant going forward will be change.
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Mike Hammer is a recognized authority in HR blended workforce design, technologies, and transformational methods to future work environments. Known as the Gig Doctor; he uses customer data/analytics to find opportunities amid uncertainty to configure workforce utilization for defined growth and a competitive advantage. Mike writes about all...