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More and more employers are looking at freelancer pools to cover busy periods and a fast-changing workplace.
The world of work is rapidly changing. Increasingly, people are leaving traditional employment behind and choosing to work independently, take charge of their careers and improve their work-life balance.
Official figures suggest the UK is now home to almost five million self-employed people, while the number of highly-skilled freelancers rose by 47% between 2008 and 2018, according to the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed.
As a result, there is now a growing gig economy full of highly-skilled independent workers. At the same time, more organisations are relying on professional freelancers and consultants, who can offer flexibility, value and expertise, without the business committing to the cost of hiring full-time employees. In fact, a report by Odgers Connect estimates that 20% of all consultancy work in 2016 was supplied by independent workers, valued at around £2 billion.
The last few years have seen professional services firms such as PwC, Deloitte and Linklaters challenge the status quo and launch their own gig-style networks, to access that much-needed talent on a project basis.
PwC implemented its Flexible Talent Network (FTN) to enable the firm to access a talent pool of people who weren’t looking for traditional working patterns.
“We decided to launch the FTN as we realised we were missing out on top talent in the market,” explains Helen Hopkin, head of workforce strategy at PwC UK. “We wanted to challenge the stereotype the firm has for traditional working practices and were keen to demonstrate our open and inclusive approach to flexibility – and tap into a more diverse group of talented people.”
The network enables the firm to only deploy resources as and when required. Independent professionals can register their interest for general flexible opportunities at the firm on a recurring basis; support the firm during busy audit season; or apply for their senior internship programme.
“Once an individual has registered their interests, we will assess their skills to see if they’re a match for the opportunities we have available,” says Hopkin. “We have to really understand our requirements as a business, as well as those of our clients, to determine the skills and expertise that are required in order to make an appropriate match.”
Deloitte launched its Associate Programme in 2013, in response to the changing workplace. The programme matches talent to demand.
“In the gig economy, there is a whole world of talent out there that Deloitte wants to access, which is why we created our Associate Programme,” remarks Nigel Hinson, head of associate resourcing at Deloitte UK. “There are some skillsets, whether it is down to the gig economy or our in-house talent, which we would want to access on a project-by-project basis.”
The firm has a number of ways to build up its contingent labour pool. “We try to use Deloitte alumni wherever possible, so we link with our alumni programme. We have informal referral schemes as well as a team of direct recruiters, who go to market and recruit for live requirements,” comments Hinson. “We also understand the pipeline so we can have talent ready.”
Hinson says the main benefits of the programme for the firm are flexibility, sourcing inclusive talent, as well as accessing diverse and niche skills.
Some organisations may think they need to pay more to hire independent professionals due in part to the specialist skills they can offer. However, Steven R Power, global president of workforce management solution Deputy, says this isn’t always the case.
“Part of the value realisation is providing these workers with flexibility around when, where and how they work. Often they will trade this off against their cost of employment. For some specialised roles the costs may be higher. However, the company has the benefit of securing someone quickly and not having a fixed-cost overhead; instead, they can leverage the resource on demand and as required.”
With more workers shunning traditional working patterns and seeking more flexibility, Julia Kermode, chief executive of The Freelancer & Contractor Services Association, warns that organisations with an employee-centric focus will be at a competitive disadvantage to those who are learning how to embrace the extended enterprise.
“Organisations should move quickly to become less employee-centric in attitude, processes and procedures – and embrace the potential of an already significant workforce who do not seek to be permanently employed by any one organisation.”