On-Demand Workforce: the trend towards choosing ‘temp’ work over a permanent job

When I was looking for my first job, I considered ‘temping’, but quickly dismissed it when I was told that ‘temps’ were the people who couldn’t find a real job. Clearly not true, but that was the perception. We are now seeing the world of temping or ‘contingent’ work take a 180 degree turn. Contingent workers are the ones who don’t want a ‘real job’!

The current buzz word ‘contingent workers’ is broader than your traditional agency temps. They may be freelancers, consultants, temporary employees, or contractors. And contingent work is no longer restricted to the traditional clerical staff backfilling leave. Today, contingent workers are often highly skilled knowledge workers, looking for more control over when, where and who they work for. Even how they work has changed. Contingent work might be all they do, or they might work part-time and ‘moonlight’ on the side. They might be placed by a staffing agency or hired directly. They can work onsite, remotely or a combination of the two. The one thing that is consistent is that they are temporary.

Why would I engage a contingent worker?

Over the years, I have worked with numerous organisations where I have had to make staff redundant. SMEs are particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in workload and the need to have a more on-demand workforce has become critical to business success. SMEs also lack resources to recruit and retain the best talent. Businesses all over Australia are now incorporating contingent workers as part of their workforce planning.

Business’ desire for a more flexible and agile workforce is moving them away from the traditional employment model. Though contingent workers may cost more, the cost is temporary. And the value of a contingency worker is often high. The employment relationship moves from employer/employee towards more of a customer relationship. They are motivated to please you, to get more work/ referrals and to increase their knowledge and experience. Permanency can breed complacency.

The average time to recruit a permanent replacement can be anywhere from 30 days and up, whereas a temporary appointment can be in your business within a week, sometimes as little as 24 hours.

Not everyone has a choice about being a contingent worker, and the casualisation of our workforce is a red flag for government agencies. In Australia we need to be mindful of ‘sham contracting’ laws under the Fair Work Act 2009 when engaging a contingent worker. Our current labour laws still work on the assumption that everyone wants a permanent job. The laws will need to be modified to provide some level of protection to the contingent workforce, while still making the ‘on-demand’ workforce accessible to businesses. In the meantime, many businesses are choosing to outsource this function to a staffing agency, to mitigate the risk.

Why would I want to be a contingent worker?

Kevin Wheeler, Founder and president of the Future of Talent Institute says the “watchwords of the emerging contingent workforce are choice, freedom, and flexibility… (the) work will open opportunities for people to be more creative, to take control over their own time and skills. They will be able to choose opportunities that excite them and give then personal fulfilment.”

A friend of mine has been a contingent worker for many years. She has primarily worked as a contractor, but has sometimes supplemented her income with part-time work. To her the value is that she can choose who she works with, what work she wants to do and most importantly the hours she works. On the whole, she really enjoys the variety of people and projects she has worked with, however the worry about cash flow is ever present.

“(Contingency work) is very liberating for those people, but they trade the liberation for less security.” Kevin Wheeler

A recent survey by Upworks found that the majority (58 per cent) of freelancers said they made the shift by choice. Just over half (51 per cent) who left traditional employment now earn more, and of those, 69 per cent said they topped their previous income within a year. Fifty-eight per cent said they would not quit and go back to a traditional job, no matter how much it paid.[1]

A growing global trend

Now more than ever, university graduates are wanting to have more control over their own careers and to be their own boss. Baby-boomers have also felt the pain of the downturn of the economy and no longer believe that jobs are secure as they were. Transitioning to retirement is now common, with retirees continuing to work part-time for many years beyond the traditional retirement age. All these factors are contributing to a movement that sees large groups moving away from the traditional 9 to 5 job.

According to study done jointly by Elance-oDesk and the Freelancer Union, 53 million people (34% of the US workforce) did freelance work in 2014. By the end of 2017, this is expected to increase to nearly 45%. In Australia, data reveals that 4.1 million Australians, (32% of the workforce) had freelanced between 2014-15. [2]

Is the permanent full-time position dead?

The permanent workforce will not disappear, but it will no longer be the dominant work arrangement. Some people may never have a permanent job, while others may move from permanent to contingent and back again many times in a working lifetime.



[1] & [2] http://www.news.com.au/finance/work/at-work/australias-freelance-economy-grows-to-41-million-workers-study-finds/news-story/629dedfaea13340797c68822f4f2a469


Claire Huntington has over 15 years’ experience in senior and executive level human resource management and strategic leadership positions. Claire learnt HR under the wings of great mentors and through trial and error. She has a very practical hands-on approach to HR and management, and isn’t afraid to look outside the box. Claire is also mum to three primary-school aged firecrackers and is an avid photographer in her spare time.

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