When George Cadbury pioneered the building of Bournville for his workers in the 1890s, he took the patriarchal view that Cadbury's would go one better - not only offering a job for life, but a vastly improved place to work and live. Fast forward to the 1970s and 80s, and a 'job for life' was still the name of the game. People typically stayed put, moving jobs only once or twice in their working life.
Today is a different ball game. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people chop and change jobs around every 4.6 years and this increased fluidity has paved the way for a flexible working model. Whilst the standing workforce of permanent employees will no doubt continue, the day of the bite-sized job has dawned. The buzz around the growth of projects and flexible working is getting louder, and companies across the board are jumping on the bandwagon.
Freelancing is nothing new and the model has long formed the mainstay of industries from television production to plumbing. But what of the professions previously untouchable to the project pros? They too have seen the light, and there has been a seismic shift in the adoption of short-term project work. Lawyers, management consultants and the like are now joining the ranks of the super-temp leagues - creating a workforce of highly-skilled temporary workers
Why tackle things piece by piece?
So why the change? Demand is high, and a shift in opportunities and values has meant people are increasingly comfortable with job 'insecurity'. As the increase in roles from highly reputable companies continues, the insecurity issue also becomes less daunting. Technological advances have led to increased efficiency, as project workers can be found easily and matched at pace with projects and problems.
This looks like a win-win situation. Companies no longer want to hire huge, inflexible project teams from the large professional firms when they can be more light-footed and flexible - changing the brief and scope during a project. They also already have large amounts of in-house expertise - lawyers, marketeers, consultants, audit functions - all of which were the preserve of external providers 20 years ago.
Let's talk risk
What's the catch? Issues around quality and risk still remain, and it takes a careful balancing act to mitigate this. Hiring the wrong person is still a costly mistake and let's be honest, you don't get fired for hiring a big name consultancy firm - as you have a simpler route to resolving a situation if they under-deliver. On the other hand, if you hire the services of a freelance accountant who gets your tax return wrong and disappears - you have a problem.
But this is surmountable. It's a case of providing reliable quality, building trust and balancing this with risk and timeliness. We'll see a growth in agencies and platform network businesses who take responsibility for the work of their 'professionals'. A number of law firms, for instance, are looking to get into the freelance game using their existing staff and alumni network more effectively.
Who wants a piece?
Early perceptions of temp consultants were that they would be sub-par, not a patch on permanent ones. In reality, those choosing project-based work are driven by the range of cutting edge projects available and the opportunity to work for several amazing companies over the course of each year. This variety and challenge tends to draw those at the top of their game and as such, perceptions have shifted.
So what's next?
Those who have been using the super-temp model for a while will have seen the landscape changing. This is just the beginning; the ability to hire everyone from painters to pilots for short-term work through an increasing number of specialist companies will change the working model immensely over the next 10 years. As with every kind of agency service, the key lies in establishing trust. The company that can develop a trustworthy freelancer platform will win the day and they'll be nibbling at every bite-sized piece of an ever-growing bar. We're sure Mr Cadbury would be proud.
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