How companies are relying on contingent workforce for specialised skills

Organisations are rapidly moving towards contingent workforces—considering the dynamic nature of the marketplace and the talent market—in response to the fast-changing market situation and locking talent that is otherwise challenging to secure.

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There is a lot happening in corporate India—organisations are increasingly adopting new technology;baby boomers are retiring at a fast pace;new jobs are being created every year;skills are becoming obsolete very fast;and there is a lack of eligible employees. Such a scenario demands innovative strategies to attract and retain talent.

There is an emergence of a varied workforce bionetwork. The employer–employee relationship has been converted into a diverse range of workers, talent networks and service providers that brings flexibility, skills and capabilities to ensure that the most qualified people help move the business forward.

A contingent workforce is a labour pool comprising highly skilled and compensated contractors. Contingent workers are not on the company payroll but provide services to an organisation, in the form of consultants, temps and advisers. Such workers are more used in project-based work.

Nisha Verma

“The major expectations, while hiring contingent employees, are influx of new perspectives/ business ideas and to introduce new ways of working in the organisation. At Welspun, it was a strategic call that we took in favour of contingent hiring. It helps us look at business issues/problems with a different lens, thereby bringing in fresh perspective to the table. They also help manage spikes during growth. Currently, we have contingent employees in the Cut and Sew department at our plant and the design function.”

It is crucial for companies to understand what skills they need and when. At times, certain projects require a specific skill set to work with a client. In such situations, there is a demand for independent workers or contractors. This helps companies to put together a workforce on a ‘need basis’.

Nisha Verma, CHRO, Welspun says “The major expectations, while hiring contingent employees, are influx of new perspectives/ business ideas and to introduce new ways of working in the organisation. At Welspun, it was a strategic call that we took in favour of contingent hiring. It helps us look at business issues/problems with a different lens, thereby bringing in fresh perspective to the table. They also help manage spikes during growth. Currently, we have contingent employees in the Cut and Sew department at our plant and the design function.”

Newer platforms for hiring workers with niche skills have come up, such as Upwork, Freelancers.com, and Toptal.

Hari T.N

“At Big Basket, we use a contingent workforce as part of our last-mile delivery. It is a micro-entrepreneur model, where the delivery person freelances with us and we pay based on order delivered.”

HR’s alignment with business objectives will source and obtain high-quality contingent workforces aligned to business needs and available ‘on-demand’ to meet instant talent requirements. Companies benefit from a contingent workforce in terms of improved operational performance, lower labour costs, informed staffing decisions and more organisational flexibility.

Richard Lobo, head-HR and executive vice president, Infosys says, “We believe that we need to actively weave the changing models for work and work structure into business plans. This involves questions around independent work or, what is termed as the contingent workforce. While work models are going to evolve and some part of the workforce will work effectively in this new construct, we also need to be aware that a large portion of the workforce will continue in the existing model for the near term. However, as technology evolves and more millennials form a majority of the workforce, organisations will tend to adopt a policy of blending full-time and part-time employees together within the same space.”

The concept of creating a contingent workforce is gaining momentum in various industries. Motorola, Oracle and Deloittearesome of the modern companies who have actively designed a special contingent workforce management model to meet their business demands.The major emphasis is on the best ‘culture fit’ of contingent teams. Verma says, “Blending with the company culture is imperative. In a group as large as Welspun, with worldwide footprints, culture integrates all our companies and employees as one to achieve a set goal. So, even when an employee is hired for a fixed duration, we make sure all the processes are in place to ensure that these employees align with the company culture and values”.

Industries, such as IT, aviation, oil &gas, banking, and telecom very actively use a contingent workforce. Hari T.N, Head HR and strategic fundamentum, Big Basket says, “Skill in India is not as respected as education. As a result, white-collar jobs continue to be more sought after even if there aren’t a sufficient number of them. India, as a nation, got educated before it got skilled! For us to progress, we need to start focussing on skills and create respectability for those doing skilled work. Organisations have also started valuing part-time jobs for niche skills, providing a boost to the gig economy, which we believe is here to stay”.

Richard Lobo

“We believe that we need to actively weave the changing models for work and work structure into business plans. This involves questions around independent work or, what is termed as the contingent workforce. While work models are going to evolve and some part of the workforce will work effectively in this new construct, we also need to be aware that a large portion of the workforce will continue in the existing model for the near term. However, as technology evolves and more millennials form a majority of the workforce, organisations will tend to adopt a policy of blending full-time and part-time employees together within the same space.”

In a VUCA world, the gig economy is an excellent example of good use of a contingent workforce where people work as freelancers and independent contractors, and are hired as per the skill sets. Airbnb, Handy and Uber are examples of companies practising the dynamics of the new economy.

However, there are certain challenges in managing the contingent workforce effectively. There has to be a cohesive workforce management strategy in place, in the absence of which managing a contingent workforce can be quite a challenge. Hari says, “At Big Basket, we use a contingent workforce as part of our last-mile delivery. It is a micro-entrepreneur model, where the delivery person freelances with us and we pay based on order delivered”.

The new generation is not ready to take up skilled jobs as the respectability towards it is a little low. There is a need to come up with strategies and plans to attract a skilled workforce. Hari says, “Big Basket majorly hires bikers in its contingent workforce. The need for bikers is increasing because the pool is not expanding fast enough to keep pace with the burgeoning demand. Our salaries and incentives have become more lucrative in keeping with the market trends”.

Companies must have clarity on ‘single-use’ of workforce in putting innovation, creativity and spontaneity into business needs and results. Ad hoc managerial behaviour can be a challenge in managing contingent workforce. ‘Adhocracy’ is a must in adapting swiftly to changing conditions. Hari says, “A contingent workforce needs to have clearly-defined deliverables as statement of work. We have a ‘Big Basket Trust’ that provides several benefits to riders. These benefits include life and accident insurance as well as educational assistance for the associates and the families”.

Efficient data management and adequate use of technology area must for managing a contingent workforce. Having an integrated solution across these areas is very crucial to make decisions about the kind of talent and skill to deploy for different projects.

Today’s workforce is a perfect example of a dynamic ecosystem. There is a ‘worker-mix’ portfolio for employers, which offers diversity, flexibility, capabilities and the possibility to discover various economic models in sourcing talent.

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