The online talent marketplace megatrend that began in the aftermath of the Great Recession created opportunities for surplus talent but now serves as an important tool in a tight labor market. How can that be? Many industry and government leaders know the answer and understand why the increase in demand for gig economy freelance talent is likely to continue while creating significant opportunities.
The answer to the apparently paradoxical question about labor market supply and demand relates to the fact that the emergence of digital marketplaces is not driven solely by economic indicators. Instead, dramatic changes in technology, a realignment of the U.S. private and public sector workforce, generational attitudes about work preferences and new business methods contribute significantly to this rising trend.
The McKinsey Global Institute found in 2016 that the U.S. economy no longer resembles the economy that went into the recession over a decade ago in large part due to a “profound digital transformation.” It found that at that time two-thirds of U.S. adults carried smartphones, three-quarters used social media platforms, and 98 percent of the population had access to high-speed wireless connectivity. Each of these technological developments contributes to the ease-of-use and wide-scale adoption of online marketplaces.
In its 2018 Future Workforce Report, Upwork’s survey of industry identified several fundamental developments in the U.S. workforce. Among other things the results of the survey found that 53% of companies are using more flexible talent, 63% of corporate departments embrace remote work, and 59% of hiring managers agree that skills have become more specialized.
In their Future Workforce Report 2019, Upwork studied how Millennials and Gen Z are redefining the workforce. Not surprisingly Upwork found the younger generations have somewhat different views than their baby boomer counterparts. In just nine years Millennials and Gen Z workers will make up 58% of the workforce.
These younger generations already have a significant impact which will only grow over time. They believe the future is agile. 50% of younger generation managers have increased their use of freelancers in the past three years. 73% of all departments will have remote workers with 33% of full-time employees working remotely.
At the same time in the federal sector the President’s Management Agenda identifies three key drivers of transformation – IT Modernization, data, accountability, and transparency, and the workforce of the future. The federal government will require agile operations and processes to quickly respond to changing mission needs, innovations and technological advancements. Online talent marketplaces provide a platform where the key drivers of transformation and related processes effectively converge.
Digital marketplaces providing ready access to short term and hard to find talent can be part of the government solution. In January 2019 the Section 809 Advisory Panel on Streamlining and Codifying Acquisition Regulations recommended the creation of a pilot program for contracting directly with information technology consultants through an online talent marketplace. The Panel further recommended that the pilot include expedited contracting authority and simplified procedures more aligned with commercial practices.
NASA has identified key insights, challenges, and opportunities in their very well-done analysis related to the future of work. In its Future of Work Theme 2: Redefining Talent, NASA noted that “from the rising use of contingent freelance workers to the growing role of participatory exploration and citizen science in accomplishing core NASA mission goals, non-traditional workers are becoming an increasingly important source of talent.” The report also noted opportunities to embrace and place “gig workers and freelancers for short durations.”
The increased use of online talent marketplaces in the government sector will lead to enhanced processing speed, cost savings and improved quality of service. However, there are important related issues regarding strategies for change, maintaining a professional career workforce and adjusting the statutory and regulatory framework. These issues are substantial and will require continued significant effort for the foreseeable future.
Government agencies and contractors are working to create a 21st-century platform for transformation. The challenges are demanding but are also replete with opportunities. Compared to some of the more complex government sector initiatives, the adoption of online talent marketplaces provides the potential for a significant near term success.