A Workforce On-Demand

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Taylor just blurted it out: “I don’t want to work full-time for anybody!”

“What? Seriously?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said with deep resolve in his voice. “I don’t see myself doing what my dad did for decades. Work in one place, grinding out the work, full-time with no sense of having a life.” He paused and looked at me, saying, “And then, my dad got let go.”

When I asked Taylor what he had in mind, he responded with a scenario that today’s employers are going to be hearing about more and more from young job candidates. Their vision for a career includes lots of change and variety, working at different locations for numerous clients, and perhaps even serving in various industries. And it will be “on-demand.”

We know this term. We view movies “on-demand.” ATM’s are basically bank tellers “on demand.” We watch programs and YouTube videos “on-demand.” I believe millions of later Millennial Generation kids (the ones born after 1990 that I call Generation iY) are expecting to create a career that may look far less steady but far more liberating. They seem to be replacing the corporate “ladder” with a “lily pad,” jumping like a frog from place to place. This will certainly be the mindset of Generation Z as well.

Contingent Workers

Human Resource Specialist Pamela Harding calls this emerging demographic “contingent workers.” She says we’ve already hired them for years as contractors, agency temps, or short-term staff. But whatever you call them, most industries use them as part of their workforce strategy. HR executives are expecting the number to increase as these Millennials graduate and play a larger role in the work population.

According to Harding:

Temporary labor isn’t new—it’s always been an alternative, often used during turbulent times. According to the Coltivar Group, ‘In a bullish economy, the demand for contingent labor is strong. This is most likely because organizations are trying to grow with the economy, and using contingency staff allows them to work alongside experts when needed, without the long-term costs of hiring them permanently.’

We saw this across the U.S. during the recession, between 2008-2012, and it may be we will continue to see it as emerging Millennials replace departing Boomers.

How Do We Balance On-Demand with Undisciplined?

You can probably see both pros and cons to this new reality. Flexibility and focus for both the employer and team members are definite pros. However, when I speak to employers and parents of twenty-somethings, they tell me they’ve spotted a general lack of discipline on the part of the young professional. With little rigor or routines, with no steady habits to cultivate into the week, one mom reported her very smart daughter still lacks basic disciplines like punctuality, meeting deadlines, and maintaining a healthy work ethic. These usually come with some incentive like a steady job. Her daughter, however, does not want a steady job. She wants contingency. Work “on-demand.” When she wants it, and only how much she wants.

Over my long career, I’ve only seen this work when the economy is robust and the worker is deeply gifted. That’s when they get to call the shots and dictate the details. So while I can see our American work culture shifting, I still see the need to develop timeless skills—often soft skills—like good attitudes, clear communication, courtesy, and a solid work ethic in young team members… contingent or full-time. Further, because this generation is loaded with such potential, creativity, passion and energy, we must not fail to develop basic employability skills in them.

How We Can Equip Contingent Young Workers

Let me start a list that you can finish. Please weigh in after reading below…

  1. Tell them to find what makes them unique and leverage it.
    Help them identify what differentiates them from other workers and build on it.
  1. Teach them that deadlines are actually lifelines.
    While deadlines have bad reputations, they actually help us rise to a challenge.
  1. Help them see boundaries and systems as accountability partners.
    They’re like train tracks. They don’t prevent a train from progress but accelerate it.
  1. Enable them to both seek work they love and to love work they have.
    Sometimes, passion surfaces from immersing oneself into the project at hand.
  1. Train them to understand that part of good ethics is a work ethic.
    I know this sounds old-fashioned, but work ethic generally never goes out of style.
  1. Teach them: If you’ll do what no one else wants to do, you’ll eventually get to do what only you can do.
    It’s important to apply oneself to a trade and master it. From there, a career begins to focus itself clearly on specific gifts.

Not long ago, Deloitte University Press published the Global Human Capital Trends report for 2015. In it, they discuss the topic of Workforce on Demand (page 43) stating, “The on-demand workforce offers companies the ability to tap into extensive networks of innovators, technical experts, and seasoned professionals. To engage and retain them, companies should think broadly about how their HR programs, strategies, and analytics tools could be applied not only to full-time employees, but also to contingent and part-time workers.”

What else would you add to this list above?

A Workforce On-Demand