Our guest today is Dr. Arthur Langer, Academic Director of Columbia University's Center for Technology Management. He is also the founder and chairman of Workforce Opportunity Services, a non-profit that develops the skills of under-served communities and places them at vacant IT jobs at corporations like PSEG, United Rentals, AutoClub, and Johnson & Johnson.

Dr. Langer, many businesses hire freelancers and gig workers, is this common for non-profits as well?

Gig workers and freelancers are hired for three reasons. The first being for the seasonal peaks and valleys that companies undergo, the second for project-based needs that are timely, and lastly for reasons related to commitment levels on the side of the employer (i.e. part-time needs).

 Anyone of these ‘gigs’ are attractive to employers because it allows them to maximize their costs while still completing their business goals and objectives. 

 At Workforce Opportunity Services (WOS), the non-profit I founded, we offer a gig solution through our Managed Services program, where we provide outsourced services with local, underserved and veteran talent (otherwise known as “near-sourcing”). We train these individuals to meet their talent needs without a commitment from our partner to hire the talent away. Over the course of the program, individuals are supported by WOS through compensation and benefits, in addition to having access to hands-on support, which can take form as both emotional and financial, enabling these individuals to overcome hurdles that previously prevent them from achieving success. 

Hiring gig workers has its downsides. They may not be available all the time or the quality of work may be inconsistent at times. Are freelancers and contingent workers less motivated and loyal than full-time employees?

I think it all comes down to sourcing the right talent. Employers must understand what type of worker will be most successful at their company to ensure growth, but this perspective is not the only one that can be considered. Employees play a huge role in the increase of the gig economy. Generationally, Gen Z looks for a different type of work environment and increased flexibility than those from the Baby Boomer generation. These are good workers but workers that seek an alternative type of work environment. 

There are a lot of things going on in the world today that doesn’t support this type of full-time commitment, on both the employer side and the employee side. Hiring full time is a big commitment for the companies. At the same time, many talented people don’t want to lock themselves down to a particular job or company. Freedom to work and travel and securing inspiring projects to work on is what motivates talented individuals to step off the beaten track.

This relationship can be hard to formulate, which is where WOS comes in, to work as the transitional partner in the ever-emerging and growing gig economy. 

WOS has probably faced talent shortages even though the gig economy is on the rise. Do you think that freelancers having more than one client add value to the company by bringing in fresh ideas and innovation?

I don’t see this as a driving factor, as consulting is nothing new. But, in the past, this was done situationally, whereas today this is done more strategically. Similar to adjunct professors who are able to teach at different schools, gig workers can evolve into a long-term relationship with one company or choose to bring their expertise to a variety of different companies.  

Another factor to consider is the increasing and changing skills set needed to remain competitive. WOS recognizes how tech has affected business, which is why we focus on placing our consultants in IT positions for which they are specifically trained. Since particular skill sets are changing at such a high pace, the gig economy is a way for both sides to have the resources they need when they need them. 

Transformify Freelance Platform is used by lots of people who have full-time jobs but need to secure extra income to pay mortgages, student loans and more. Full-time jobs are no longer making promises of either professional or financial security to today’s workforce. Do you think that the gig economy is the future?

There is clearly a benefit to corporations when buying into the gig economy as it is similar to a free agency.

Our society drives the future of work and holds the cards in decisions related to benefits for non-traditional workers. To stay competitive, some businesses may opt to actually provide benefits to gig workers without offering them exactly what full-time employees receive. Some freelancers build a small business of their own providing services to the same clients over and over again while others struggle to secure clients and make the ends meet. Unlike full-time employees who can rely on welfare payments, struggling freelancers can count on their savings only until a new source of income is secured.

At WOS we have adapted our training to fit the needs of both employers and potential employees. Managing contingent workforce requires a different skillset and the same is valid to motivating gig workers and ensuring high productivity and efficiency.

Young generations want a different type of relationship with their jobs and employers, and the WOS model can aid this by assuming the risk of the individual through providing benefits until the organization is ready to hire full-time. It’s the freedom of choice and the ability to work on various inspiring projects that motivates lots of young people. Moreover, in some cases, hiring on a full-time basis is not justified as there is no business need for it.


About the author

Lilia Stoyanov is CEO and angel investor at Transformify. A fintech and digital transformation expert, she is also a professor at Zigurat Business School and expert evaluator Horizon 2020 at the European Commission.

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