October 9, 2018
Across the globe, organizations are having a devil of a time managing a shifting corporate culture that’s increasingly reliant upon gig economy workers. As enterprise telecom organizations scurry to adapt, where does the highly skilled freelance worker stand amidst all the noise? With their in-demand skills in a growing industry, do they call the shots? Or are the hiring managers who work for telecom giants managing to hang on to the upper hand they’ve previously enjoyed?
If there’s any quick answer here, it’s that freelance telecom workers — field engineers, for example — should feel encouraged by the new economy. Here’s why.
Temporary workers — freelancers, contract workers, and part-timers — have been around for as long as their full-time counterparts. The difference now is that they’ve grown in number and in importance. Here are three reasons why:
1. Job Security: There has been a shift in the supply of jobs, from low-skill jobs to high-tech skilled jobs: in the U.S., manufacturing jobs have all but gone away but tons of other jobs remain unfilled because of lack of skills.
2. Job Loyalty: Millennials are over half the workforce and spend on average only 16 months at any job. This is due to the “loyalty challenge” they feel.
3. Technology: Digital technology is everywhere now. Social media is a force that can’t be ignored. Due to digital disruption and the rapid rate of change, companies must reposition themselves constantly. They must now be agile. Sometimes, this comes in the form of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or digital platforms that automate tasks previously handled manually.
As a result of all that change toward a gig economy, employer-employee relationships have changed dramatically. Contingent workers make up 30 to 40 percent of the workplace, depending on what source you use. But many companies lack the resources to handle contract workers. The result is a bumpy road for these workers as companies struggle to find new ways to attract talent, make good decisions about hiring, properly onboard new hires, and finally, to manage them.
It can make any worker, even a highly skilled, sought-after field engineer, feel like they’re adrift in the new economy. Some struggle to understand how to navigate the marketplace. They struggle to understand their place in established company cultures. They struggle to understand their worth, but they shouldn’t. Understanding the flipside of the coin can help freelance telecom workers understand what they’re up against… and why it’s all going to change very soon.
Startups, who specialize in breaking new ground, are adept at creating exactly the kind of workforce they need, from scratch. Very often, that’s a small core of full-time, local workers plus an often larger contingent of agile talent. Their teams grow organically, bonded and strengthened by visionary leaders, a well-defined company culture, and an agile mentality right from the get-go.
Established companies, on the other hand, have lots of baggage to carry with them on the road to becoming agile and staying competitive. Regarding attitudes about the workforce, they’re dealing with a legacy culture that may have been created decades ago and which is most certainly based upon a culture of full-time workers who stay longer than 16 months.
As they take those first steps toward becoming agile, toward building a skilled workforce that can expand or contract as needed, clashes are bound to happen.
1. IT Job Insecurity: Long-ago established departments get absorbed into other areas of the organization (IT staff, for example, nowadays can be found scattered across departments, integrated with marketing, sales, or other formerly siloed areas).
2. Emphasis on Teamwork: The rise of digital workplace platforms has altered the way employees communicate and collaborate. Soft skills are prized now more than ever. Team players are valued. Problem-solving occurs in groups. Technology enables offsite workers to participate in daily routines. Many old-school workers have trouble adjusting to the new paradigm.
3. Frontline Job Insecurity: Customer-facing jobs have changed, too, as automation plays an increasingly important role.
It’s no surprise to any HR manager — indeed, any leader — that the mere mention of contract workers, outsourcing, or automation can cause the blood to run cold in the veins of their existing workforce. It’s a topic that, unmanaged, can plant the seed of discontent, leading to low morale.
What many leaders haven’t learned is that like it or not, they’ll have to find a way to absorb a new wave of gig economy workers. And in the meantime, they’d be well-advised to find ways to make the cultural shift as painless as possible.
Companies who pit their full-time employees against freelancers and part-time employees are doubling down on a corporate culture that won’t serve them well for very long. Smarter leaders are finding out that a mix of full-timers, freelancers, part-timers, contract workers, contingent workers, all but the first of whom can be lumped together under the moniker agile talent, is a much healthier foundation for success. We call this mix ‘the blended economy’.
Right alongside this shift, we have a parallel shift that’s equally encouraging for gig economy workers. It concerns the Department of Labor and changes made that make it significantly easier for telecoms to hire contract workers.
The DOL is Finally Paving the Way for the Blended Economy
Labor laws are changing in the U.S. As recently as 2017, major changes at the federal level have allowed the blended economy to take root.
Until recently, businesses who recognized the value of a contract or freelance worker were hindered by a set of tough, complex regulations. These regulations discouraged employers from hiring freelancers through staffing agencies. They did this by redefining the relationship as employer-employee rather than the employer-independent contractor. Ask any business owner which type of temp worker they’d rather employ and they’ll tell you it’s the latter. An employer-employee relationship increases the level of liability the hiring company has for the employee, which in turn raises the cost of hiring them.
Now, those regulations have been withdrawn and the on-demand labor market is thriving once again. Finally, U.S. telecom companies have been unchained from outdated labor models so they can begin building agile workforces, get down to business, and get work done.
Independent workers in the telecom industry should feel confident about their prospects. Two major shifts are taking place that encourages the growth of a blended economy. The first is what we’ve been talking about all along: more businesses are recognizing the necessity of having an agile workforce. Add to this the fact that the telecom industry is facing incredible growth and the scene is very well set for freelance workers in this field.
The second reason to feel confident about your position in the blended economy is the fact that labor laws are changing to make it easier for companies to hire agile talent through staffing agencies. That represents an even greater ‘victory’ for proponents of the new paradigm. When lawmakers and leaders are paving the way for the blended economy, you know that if you’re a gig economy worker, you’re the one who holds the ace.