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Building a Flexible-Skills Workforce

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Flexibility has become a watchword in the current business and hiring climate. Businesses are encouraged to build flexibility into their talent strategies by increasing the variety of worker types they employ. By making greater use of freelancers, contract workers, and consultants in addition to traditional, full-time employees, firms become better prepared to deal with market fluctuations. This approach assumes the nature of work will change often, and companies should be able to shift their workforce to take on new challenges. Of course, the ability to pivot manufacturing, operations, marketing, and supply chain procedures is a key component of firm longevity and success. But meeting the dynamic demands of buyers, vendors, and workers also requires companies to have access to diverse skills. Hiring workers who possess many in-demand skills and developing new capabilities among employees and contingent workers allows firms to expedite refinements to their go-to-market strategies, absorb market shocks, and take advantage of emerging trends.

Economically Sound Policy

Shifting to a more flexible workforce will often pay for itself in the form of cost savings, efficiency gains, and access to the skills required to react to opportunities more swiftly than the competition. Flexibility in skills acquisition and development includes building conduits to outside talent that can be brought on board at irregular intervals and for indeterminable periods of time as circumstances dictate. Developing a new product, for example, may occur sporadically. It makes little sense to put more brand managers on the payroll than the company has brands. But when a company wants to launch another product, it needs an additional manager right away. Having access to a pool of viable brand managers – especially ones with experience either with the focus firm or another company in the industry – can shorten the hiring cycle and the learning curve.

Cataloging Skill Assets

The economic fallout from COVID-19 has left a lot of skilled people looking for work. While many of these former employees may be searching for another full-time job, others will be on the lookout for freelance and consulting opportunities. Those who got a taste of remote work during the recent social-distancing period might also be interested in exploring the chance to become their own boss. These veteran workers present ideal targets for diversifying your workforce. And at a time when you may already need to trim your fixed labor costs, approaching valued workers about working for you on a contingent basis makes sense. The economy is expected to rebound quickly once the virus subsides and America gets working again. A V-shaped recovery would ignite the war for talent all over again, and companies that prepare now will be at a decided advantage. Here’s how you can get the jump on your competitors:

  1. Catalog the types of skills your company has available to it right now. Include full-time employees, resources your talent vendors can reliably supply, contacts with “warm” prospects (such as former employees), applicants, and people who have signed up to receive notifications of new openings at your firm.
  2. Map out where each of these key skills “live.” If they are embodied in staff members, know which department employs them and what kinds of projects they typically work on. If the skills you need regularly are possessed by favored freelancers or independent contractors, be sure you can stay in contact and that they will be available the next time a project comes up. If there is a danger that they will be otherwise engaged at the critical moment with no suitable substitute available, consider offering them full-time employment or putting them on retainer.
  3. Dismantle any siloed approach to your talent strategy that would prevent these important human assets from being used wherever in the organization they can contribute most. Communication and a centralized dispatch of talent can avoid situations where a supervisor requisitions a freelance writer for a technical document while a capable writer working in another area is about to complete her contract. Coordination could allow her term to be extended, eliminating lead time and search costs while rewarding the freelancer for a job well done.

Lock in Existing Flexibility

In evaluating the skills existent in your firm, you probably will discover you have either a store of several highly specialized employees or a large number of workers who possess a range of skills. Either situation is a suitable starting point for assuring flexibility in the future. With a stable of specialists, you can mix-and-match people depending on the abilities demanded by each project or challenge. A user-experience expert might be paired with a copywriter to create scenarios for a new training module, for instance. Once that project is complete, the writer could work with a graphic artist on a new advertisement, while the UX champion teams with a brand manager, a retail specialist, and a computer programmer to design an interactive sales presentation. A team of generalists, on the other hand, lend flexibility by being able to produce revenue both in existing conditions and when things change. Both conditions allow you to supplement in-house talent with outside workers. For instance, the generalists may need a consultant to act as team leader; your bench of specialists, on the other hand, may not have anyone qualified to conduct environmental and regulatory law. Hiring a freelance paralegal would complete a plant-expansion team.

Managing Flexibility

Having flexible talent on staff or being able to access it when needed is only one component of success: knowing how to deploy and manage it is just as crucial. As companies work to blend traditional employees and contingent workers, they will need to combine the functions of the human resources and procurement departments in order to make a holistic talent strategy run seamlessly. There are several factors to keep in mind:

  1. Artificial intelligence, skills-assessment gamification, and other technologies can help hiring teams evaluate talent speed up the hiring process. But creating a flexible workforce is as much of an art as it is a science. HR and procurement professionals must extend and refine their focus on the people who possess the skills more than on the skills themselves.
  2. Particularly with remote workers, coaching and communication will be instrumental in aligning people’s flexible talents to meet the demands of work. In the future, management success will be measured by how well leaders identify workers’ strengths and determine how each skill set integrates with company needs and other workers’ abilities.
  3. Just as crucially, firms and managers will be called upon to identify worker aptitudes and developing latent abilities. Cross-training employees and offering contingent workers the opportunity to apply their skills in new ways will establish companies as innovative, making them preferred places to work.

Metasys is a leader in helping organizations build flexible, skilled workforces and diversifying their sources for talent. Contact us to discover what we can do for you.


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