Will employees still exist in the (near) future?

In November 2013, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that Australia had 11.5 million people engaged in 6,359 different forms of employment.

Seven million of these workers were engaged in traditional employment. Of the remainder, 2.2 million workers were in jobs that had no leave entitlement while 980,000 were independent contractors. The remainder were classed as business operators. In summary, traditional employment accounted for just 63 per cent of today’s workforce.

There are already many indicators to suggest what these labour force changes will mean and to provide an idea of what the workforce may look like in ten or twenty years. Thanks to information technology, the workplace is no longer a fixed physical location. People can work wherever and whenever they like. It’s a situation that the up and coming generation of employees are more than comfortable with. They’ve spent their entire lives studying, researching and communicating via the Internet.

People have become more comfortable with the idea that they may have several different careers over their lifetime, rather than a handful of long-term permanent roles. This is in part because jobs are less easily defined or mapped. Many of the roles being performed in business today didn’t exist ten years ago and it’s almost impossible to predict where demand will lie ten years hence.

The lack of employment security is forcing workers to become more assertive in their career path, with individuals determinedly seeking to build a portfolio of skills and experience. Once a person starts to take charge of their career, it can be just a short step before they consider marketing their expertise in order to reap the advantages that their newly found skills afford in the corporate war for talent.

For management, the adoption of a workforce model that includes contingent workers presents a major challenge to the old ways of thinking. Organisations also soon discover that they can’t take this new labour source for granted. Given the shortage of talent, good workers and special skills are in high demand. With a choice of projects in front of them, candidates tend to choose the most interesting engagements or those that offer an opportunity to learn. Therefore, companies have to make themselves and their projects attractive.

The annual IPro Index, an Australian study into the attitudes, experiences and issues affecting white collar contractors (referred to as Independent Professionals or IPros by Entity Solutions), provides some helpful hints on how to achieve this. Participants report greater commitment to employers when the employer respects their role, shows fairness and transparency in contractual dealings, provides clarity in expectations, and recognises that this is a relationship of mutual benefit.

Although contingent workers enjoy their freedom, they also respond to being part of the team. Simple steps such as induction, inclusion in team communication and being invited to participate in the celebration of project successes or milestones can all increase engagement.

Where the relationship may be long term, look for ways to keep it fresh and the worker enthused. Consider incentives such as bonuses or opportunities for skills development or learning, because any value a contingent workers is typically repaid with loyalty (for the duration of the project) and energy.

Twenty years from now, it’s likely that the employment model will be completely different to that of today. Permanent employment will decline as the use of contingent employees becomes commonplace across many, if not all industries. Perhaps even the word “employee” will no longer exist and the traditional employment model will be completely replaced by more flexible alternatives. For employer and employee alike, it is a change that should be welcomed for the opportunities it will bring.

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