Task-to-Talent: Freelancing as an Extension of the Contingent Workforce

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The shift among businesses and workers toward contingent work arrangements appears to be accelerating and contingent work arrangement models are evolving, often through technological advances. One of these emerging and fast-growing models is Task-to-Talent (or T2T), which is the large-scale engagement of contingent workers across all industry segments. So what is this all about?

To answer this question let’s first look more closely at the supply and demand sides of this story.

The Freelancer. Freelancers, or independent workers, are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. workforce, and it’s estimated that by the year 2020, 40 percent of the American workforce will be freelance or contract workers.

But who are these workers? They are not the independent contractor (IC), who is used for longer-term engagements or projects; rather, freelancers bring specialized skills and knowledge to organizations’ short-term tasks. A number of them have specialized, portable skills and expertise and the ability to problem solve using convergent, divergent and creative thinking. Freelancers work across a variety of industries, such as information technology, journalism, publishing, graphics design, website development and language translation.

The buyer. As our knowledge-based service economy matures, companies struggle with new ways to differentiate and view specialization – the ability to deliver exceptional and rare capabilities on demand – as a way to stand out.

It is increasingly difficult for organizations to hire every type of resource they could potentially require under the more traditional work arrangement models. The era of delivering extremely specialized and targeted skills — in order to be competitive — requires a highly talented and variable workforce — the freelancer.

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Online work platforms.  Online Work Platform Analyst Andrew Karpie has discussed how online, technology-based platforms are enabling the expansion of short-assignment/limited-task or task-to-talent (T2T) work arrangements, connecting the freelancers with the organizations in need of their skills. T2T is not new, as agricultural and industrial age economies have always engaged independent workers for short assignments on a contingent basis. However, online platform models and the capabilities and efficiencies they bring are new and are now bridging supply and demand for T2T work in a knowledge-based economy, expanding and accelerating the growth of T2T work transactions.

We now have supply emerging in the form of an ever-growing independent workforce, organizations opening up to the concept of engaging knowledge workers at the right time and at the right cost for performing specialized task, and technology to fuel and enable new work arrangements. What else do we need? Change.

Embrace the change.  Adoption of change can be slow, especially in an area where business practices have been well-established for many decades (traditional employment models). However, unexpected events often disrupt industries and businesses in ways that are surprising. Take publishing, for example. Forbes’ media chief product officer, Lewis DVorkin, provides a clear outline of how new work arrangements are being formed with freelancers in his piece, “The Role of Pay and Traffic in Our Search for a New Media Equation.” While a sea-change within the publishing industry forced a workforce transformation (e.g. e-publishing, free content), it is a change that can challenge well-established business models across many industries.

The staffing industry must act now to embrace these new work arrangements and leverage the value of specialization and variability. The next frontier in enterprise HR and talent acquisition is learning how to engage these freelancers, and the “task to talent” paradigm is a strategic way of looking at how organizations can truly leverage a freelancer workforce. By looking at the intersection of three core ingredients – task, talent and technology – we can begin to develop a plan for engaging a variable freelancer workforce as a key element of our workforce strategy.

MORE: Contingent workforce program generations: Are independent contractors in or out?

Peter Cannone
Peter Cannone is the CEO of OnForce, a technology-enabled workforce solutions provider.

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