In Articles, Change Management

Readiness to navigate change has been critical for companies this year. Look around you and what do you see? Increasing competitive pressures, an ongoing war for top talent, expanding customer expectations, regulatory complexity and uncertainty and — perhaps most obvious of all — the ever-accelerating speed of technological change. How can you keep up?

In 2017’s fast-paced landscape, organizations had to be adaptable and ready for whatever came next. The driving force behind all the changes we saw this year is the growing need for organizational agility, especially when it comes to leveraging expertise. What good is a brilliant, carefully crafted strategy if you don’t have the talent to execute it?

Read on for the top three trends in the on-demand economy in 2017, along with commentary from workplace agility expert Brandon Moreno. Moreno is the President of EverHive, “vanguards of the global workforce,” a company that partners with firms to develop contingent workforce solutions and maximize their successes.

1. Growing Need for Specialized Skills

Some of the skills most in demand in 2017 were related to understanding the changing needs of customers, as well as data analysis, market research and project management and planning. According to Catalant Technologies’ data strategy team, there was a 2x increase in demand for the project management skill from 2016 to 2017. In addition to emerging skills, technology is moving so fast today that it’s transforming jobs. Machine learning and algorithms are completing tasks traditionally performed by humans, forcing companies to quickly upskill to keep up with technological change.  

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning have a profound impact on the way work gets done today. Emerging technologies are eliminating routinized jobs, while reshaping other jobs and creating whole new categories of work, leaving people to perform higher-functioning tasks,” Catalant CEO Rob Biederman explains.

As a growing number of human skills become obsolete, organizations have also needed to leverage higher-function specialized knowledge to remain competitive. The growing availability and use of contingent workers supports every company’s workforce planning and strategic agility. “As we hear about more high-profile cases of hacking, the demand for cybersecurity knowledge is growing. We’re also seeing more use and supply of external business executives.” As mentioned in a Catalant Week-in-Review for example, Airbnb’s Jonathan Mildenhall stepped down as CMO back in the fall of 2017 to launch his own consulting firm — and one of his first client’s was his former employer AirBnB.

Beyond on-demand executives, “We’re seeing a shift in demand toward higher-level expertise, the type of experts on the Catalant platform. As we make extreme technological advances, we have yet to see what new specialized knowledge will evolve as a result. In many cases, organizations will need on-demand talent to tap into these emerging skill sets,” summarizes Moreno.

2. Increase in Blended Workforces

In 2017, we’ve seen best-in-class agile companies blend their core staff of full-time employees, retirees and alumni with on-demand consultants. By leveraging online talent management platforms, business leaders can scan for contingent experts to fill skills gaps. This blended workforce allows businesses to effectively control labor costs and meet their distinct business needs as they arise, overall maintaining operational agility.

The numbers don’t lie. A decade ago, about 12–15 percent of the total workforce was “non-employee.” Today, according to the State of Contingent Workforce Management research study by Ardent Partners, the number of “non-employees” leveraged by organizations has grown to 40 percent, and that number will only continue to rise.

Ben Pring, Director of the Center for the Future of Work, explained why he sees the use of the blended workforce booming in this blog post: “Rather than hiring those specialists on a full-time basis, on-demand talent can help fill the gap when the workload is volatile and changing quickly. Organizations simply don’t know what skill sets they’re going to need in the future.”

Brandon Moreno agrees: “Companies need to shift their priorities quickly today and we’re seeing more organizations that are integrating flexible workforce solutions that support agility. The on-demand workforce is a big part of that solution. External experts expand the talent pool, and their use is increasing. Organizations now understand that this blended approach makes sense, offering you the talent you need when you need it.”

A blended workforce can also help drive innovation and fresh approaches to problem solving. As innovation expert and author Warren Berger explained in a recent blog post: “Specialized experts can bring influences and ideas absorbed through the various and diverse projects, organizations and industries they’ve worked with previously. Connective thinking is all about linking ideas and thoughts that may seem unrelated in order to apply an influence or approach from one industry or discipline to another. Outsiders can help you make those connections and become more aware of diverse possibilities.”

There are, of course, challenges to overcome for organizations that leverage a more blended workforce. Renowned HR guru Dave Ulrich described a few of the great challenges in a recent post:

  1. Identifying and bringing in external experts who match the organization’s culture.
  2. Ensuring project-based employees understand the specific business goals.
  3. Confirming commitment and buy-in to the organization’s overall success.

Catalant and other providers are on the forefront of helping blended organizations meet these emerging challenges. 

3. Use of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence isn’t just doing work traditionally done by people. It’s also making sense of large datasets to help assemble effective, blended work teams. A recent Wall Street Journal article, “Meet Your New Boss: An Algorithm,” described how companies are helping organizations build blended workforce models composed of full-time employees, on-demand talent and artificial intelligence.

For example, global brands like Shell Oil and General Electric have begun to leverage digital software solutions to drive workforce planning, enabling tasks to be assigned by a simple mouse click. This impressive digital software keeps improving its matchmaking capabilities: “The program tracks and evaluates [work] activity so it can refine the next round of matches,” explains WSJ.  

The recent Wall Street Journal article also describes how HR technologies that leverage AI for talent matching are being used to identify needed talent both internally and externally: “If a scan identifies internal skills gaps, organizations can [then] access the Catalant platform to scan for external specialists or consultants to fill those gaps.” It’s a seamless workforce management solution that massively expands any organization’s available talent pool.

“In the HR function, we’re seeing AI impact payroll, organizational design and talent and hiring functions,” says Brandon Moreno, “Organizations are already integrating it into finance and other functions. Now, AI is integrated into our tools as part of software functionality. We’re seeing a massive shift in the adoption of AI. A recent survey from Deloitte Bersin noted that about 60 percent of companies are planning to implement AI in 2018, so we’ll be hearing and seeing more and more of it.”

It’s time to make the on-demand workforce part of your roadmap. As Moreno says, “Stop talking about it and begin to integrate it into your strategic roadmap. On-demand talent will be a critical component to meeting your strategic initiatives. If you don’t do it now, it’ll be harder for your company to remain competitive.” Becoming agile in your workforce management was what 2017 was about, and that will hold true for 2018 as well.

Listen to the rest of the conversation with Brandon Moreno on our podcast on SoundCloud.

To learn more about the biggest on-demand workforce trends of 2017, download our commissioned study “Address Critical Skill Gaps With On-Demand Knowledge” conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Catalant.