Sometimes seeing and acknowledging workforce and workplace change happens very slowly. For the past fifteen years there have been predictions that almost 50% of our total workforce will be contingent workers. To be specific, contingent means temporary, contractual labor, even seasonal and part-time workers.
We are not close to 50% yet, however, it seems with each economic business cycle the numbers edge upward. And you know what? I am beginning to wonder what ‘temporary’ means when it comes to jobs. But I will get back to that premise in a minute. First, let’s talk about the business side of the workforce.
Smart businesses have learned to manage their labor costs. Much attention and press has been given to our slow moving economy and the minimal job growth. Companies survived through the recession by trimming their “core” jobs and by reducing their contingent workers. In fact, from 2007 through mid-2009, the temporary workforce dove by 33.7% while the total private workforce dropped by just 5.8%, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data in The Atlantic.
For years the staffing industry has been espousing the benefits of a “contingent workforce strategy.” The numbers from 2007-2009 are evidence that businesses could reduce their costs and were able to do so quickly. In other words, the plan worked. Typically cost comes into play, simply put, there are less employee benefit costs. And for most, cost is a driver for using “temps.” However, the real benefit has been flexibility. The flexibility to lower labor costs quickly. The flexibility to change your workforce overnight. The ability to NOT have to build a permanent Human Resources department to screen, qualify, hire and fire. And finally, the ability and flexibility to add skills and competencies for project work.
And the numbers support that. In 2010, employment in temporary help services rose by about 300,000 to 2.21 million, according to the BLS. “By 2012, contingent employment will have returned to 2008 levels,” says Dana Shaw, senior vice president for strategy and solutions at Staffing Industry Analysts in Mountain View, Calif.
Growth and decline and temporary jobs will happen as a part of smart business. But isn’t every job temporary anyway? Have you ever looked at the average tenure of leaders of public companies? Some studies support that they average a little over year. I know some contract work that is longer than that! Besides, think about your job. Yes, the one you are in right now. Think about how much project work there is with a beginning and an end. Think about how frequently you are challenged to do things that aren’t written in your job description. Businesses demand both productivity and a growth in skills from its workers.
Burkhard theory suggests that most people are congruent or right for their jobs just a few times a year. Companies change fast. Jobs evolve. We grow in interest and in skill, and our job might not. Or the job changes around us and we might not be capable or even interested in how it evolves. If you’re in a fast-growing company, skills and work experience will change faster than people can settle in. If your business is shrinking? Many employees become too experienced for their role.
It seems like just yesterday that we all wanted was to work for parental companies and retire with the gold watch after thirty years. Many of us lived through the “age of free agency” in the workforce and perhaps scoffed at it for our own careers. Change comes slowly. However, change does come. And perhaps we are beginning to realize that every job is in fact “temporary.”