Often times, the contingent workforce is described as a combination of full- and part-time employees and non-employees, which can be freelancers, independent professionals, temporary workers and consultants. Because each employer must navigate these waters in their own way, ratio is always unique to the company, dependent upon the needs of the business and the goals in mind. While employers know what to expect with traditional employees, this blended workforce is leading employers to wonder what to expect from non-traditional workers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of contingent workers has increased 29% since September 2009. Recent BLS estimations signify that the contingent workforce will continue to grow, with a 23 percent increase from 2010 to 2020. The result of this increase—631,300 additional jobs totaling 3.3 million. Further, according to the American Staffing Association, U.S. staffing companies employed an average of 2.8 million temporary and contract workers per day in 2011.Therefore, businesses that do not already employ contingent workers may soon be shifting their business model to fit with this growing and strategic trend.

Many organizations that supply non-employee workers in the market place agree that there is a significant increase in the contingent workforce. In fact, some businesspeople even call this their biggest growth area. However, the contingent worker is not as “one size fits all” as many employers originally thought. Like traditional employees, each contingent worker has his or her own wants, needs and expectations. As the contingent workforce grows and develops, collectively we have been able to hone in on the varying characteristics of non-traditional workers:

  • Flexibility: This is one of the main reasons companies employ contingent workers. When there are short-term projects, seasonal opportunities or specific skills required, it’s a win-win for employers and non-traditional employees. Sometimes, non-employee workers are referred to as “gap fillers” because they offer the flexibility to temporarily fill in for a designated period of time. This could be a retired worker who is willing to work temporarily, a parent who works part-time or a freelancer. 
  • Knowledge and skill level: Contingent workers who possess unique and highly specialized skills often enjoy contract work because it allows them to work on different projects, express their creativity and sharpen their knowledge and skills. Employers desire this type of contingent worker because it helps the company maintain a competitive edge, as well as construe a different outlook from a professional with abundant experience who has worked with other companies in the field. 
  • Commitment and Loyalty: Contingent workers may simply be looking for temporary work, or be looking for full time employment. These professionals have a higher level of loyalty from the start due to their aspirations to become a permanent hire. Other times, contingent workers offer limited loyalty and commitment because they prefer to work on projects with various companies, rather than stick with one. The value of their relationship with the client is connected here, because they are accustom to working with those who interest them. 

These characteristics lead to a better understanding about what to expect from contingent workers and how to best leverage their varying characteristics. When we have more insight into the traits of non-traditional employees, we can recognize his or her contributions, assets and capabilities and deploy him or her strategically.

Cindy Lubitz is Managing Director of inTalent Consulting Group

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