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The rise of the freelance economy: how to leverage the workforce of the future

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The digital landscape is disrupting the business landscape. As we move into 2017, businesses need to embrace digital transformation to stay relevant and adapt to their rapidly changing customers.

Businesses now face massive challenges adapting to this new digital economy as technology changes businesses forever. Delivering the people, process and cultural change needed to facilitate wide scale digital transformation is therefore more essential than ever.

This requires a new generation of talent experienced in STEM skills, but we are witnessing a paradigm shift in the way this highly skilled pool of workers is operating. A move away from traditional models of employment is causing an unprecedented number of professionals to transition to freelance. The rise of digital marketplaces, a societal change towards short-term jobs and self-employment, combined with exploding skills gap, are coming together like a perfect storm to create a radical shift in the way the STEM skills base wants to work.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of professional freelance consultants increased by 25% between 2011 and 2015.  In sectors such as technology, it reports a 75% growth in the number of freelance consultants as a percentage of the total IT workforce – an unparalleled rise.

This talent is no longer choosing to work on a permanent basis or for consultancies – so what does the rise of the freelance economy mean for you? It’s time to take advantage of this shift and leverage the contingent workforce of the future. Here are a few places to start:

Adapt and educate

Step one is to accept that this shift to freelance is here to stay and step two is to get your business on board. Historically, freelancers have been viewed with suspicion: they’re seen as money hungry, lacking in the values demonstrated by loyal full-time employees, and treated as a last resort. This perception has changed. The modern workforce is not choosing to freelance because of the pay packet, it is a lifestyle choice.

Build communities of talent

The move to social is making it easier than ever to identify and manage talent yourself and technology makes it easy to build and manage your own communities of freelance talent.

To do this effectively requires a change in your internal recruitment function. Your team needs to think like marketers – ones who can perfect the art of social selling to attract and engage with the freelance community. 

Invest in the right HCM platform

As the move to the freelance model accelerates, you’ll need to implement processes to more effectively manage an external workforce.

Investing in HCM technology which provide full visibility into your workforce and automate the management of freelance workers, is a great place to start as you embrace the rise of the freelance economy.

Change your internal processes

When you hire a full-time candidate, you put them through a rigorous screening process. Contrast the typical process for screening freelancers, which is often semi-formal and seldom more than one interview.

As more contingent workers are set to join your organisation, your controls and selection criteria will need to improve.

Shake up your supply chain

The freelance marketplace needs to become a primary source of skills. This means a significant structural change from a resourcing perspective with a need to build supply chains that can tap into this market more effectively.

Some suppliers are using new social technologies to create opportunities for you to identify and engage with the high-quality talent your business needs to attract.

Shake up your supply chain with new innovative agencies that know how to access this talent.

To the future

It’s time to face facts – the brightest minds are increasingly transitioning to freelance and the brightest businesses are taking advantage of this. Just look at PwC: in recognition of this change, the organisation has created its own talent marketplace to source freelancers. The platform helps the firm augment their teams with highly qualified freelance professionals when required. It’s a clear endorsement of the paradigm shift to contingent working.

You may not need to go to the lengths PwC has, but what you do need to do is adapt your business and change perceptions to take advantage of this highly skilled pool of talent.

Only then will you attract the skills your business needs.

Mat Roche

By Mat Roche

Mat is the co-founder and director of Third Republic

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