The Evolving “Gig Economy” and What it Means for Interim Talent

Gig Economy

Gig EconomyRobert RuthBy Robert Ruth, Vice President & Managing Director, Ashton Tweed

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Some people think of the gig economy as people who perform odd jobs or side jobs for supplemental incomes, as can been seen in recent articles from Forbes, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post. For example, they think of people who drive for Uber or host for Airbnb. But the gig economy is rapidly evolving beyond that. It doesn’t just include low-mid level positions either – in fact, it’s grown to reach high-level and career-oriented positions as well. “Approximately 150 million workers in North America and Western Europe have left the relatively stable confines of organizational life — sometimes by choice, sometimes not — to work as independent contractors (HBR).” This is an incredible trend for veteran HR professionals like me to watch evolve across different industries, especially the life sciences.

In the Intuit 2020 Report, they cover twenty trends that will shape the next decade, including how work will shift from full-time to free agent employment. They predict that employment will continue to accelerate towards a contingent workforce – including freelancers, temps, part-time workers, contractors, and other specialists. Digital connectivity of devices and technologies has also allowed for more remote employees, making a flexible workforce even easier to achieve. “The number of contingent employees will increase worldwide. In the U.S. alone, contingent workers will exceed 40 percent of the workforce by 2020,” the report states. This will be aided by that fact that more than 80 percent of large corporations plan to increase their use of a flexible workforce in the near future (Intuit).

This concept mirrors the strategy of interim talent in many ways. Both approaches make employment more agile. They also turn employment into a variable cost for companies while making the most valuable professionals available to them. So, what does the burgeoning gig economy mean for interim talent? It’s likely to also experience an upcoming boom because interim talent offers some distinct advantages over other supplemental staffing concepts. Regarding the gig economy, “some key challenges still must be addressed for this shift to be a feasible and satisfying development for workers. Issues such as benefits, income-security measures, and training and credentials offer room for policy makers, as well as innovators and new intermediaries, to provide solutions” (McKinsey Global Institute). Interim talent can solve some of these issues because interim executives fill a specific vacant position on a company’s organizational chart, meaning all of the above issues are addressed before an interim is hired just as they would be for a typical, permanent employee.

Fixed-duration employment is great for fast-paced industries with highly technical experts such as the life sciences where professionals with narrow expertise like FDA regulatory knowledge or rare disease experience could be needed at high levels but only for short periods. Because life sciences companies often require specialized skills, competition for experienced candidates has resulted in rising salaries in the life sciences industries. According to JLL’s U.S. Life Sciences 2017 report, U.S. annual average salaries in the industry rose 19.2 percent since 2012, and wages for R&D employees surged over 50 percent in the last decade. These rising costs put pressure on talent selection, especially for small or early stage companies. This is when interim talent and gig employment become a valued option. Since 2004, Ashton Tweed has had a front row seat to witness this flexible-cost strategy grow in our industry. Today, almost half (45%) of our life science placements are interim and over half (63%) of our life science clients use interim talent.

In addition, engaging interim placement with a recruiting firm adds the benefits of a retained search’s highly specialized vetting process, ensuring the best possible fit for your interim employee. This means your company will gain the best talent, not just the most available talent at the time. A search firm’s access to the right network of leaders, especially C-level professionals, is unique. Speaking of C-suite executives, Rick DeVleeschouwer, Founder and Managing Partner of Rick DeVleeshouwer Advisory Services, LLC, has embraced the gig economy and the flexibility of this modern career style. Rick brings an immense amount of expertise as a Management Advisor and HR Consultant. He is a former SVP and CHRO for a growth stage specialty pharma start-up, as well as a former divisional Head of HR for big pharma companies with global responsibilities. He’s now doing a number of consulting engagements mostly in life sciences, healthcare, and medical devices. Rick’s a good friend of mine, and I spoke to him recently on the matter.

Rick says that his client base has grown exponentially over the past 5 years, and he’s never had more enjoyment working with a variety of CEOs and C-suite executives in this capacity. He feels an immense amount of satisfaction being able to learn from and significantly influence companies in the fast-paced, gig environment. This change of pace in his career has been enlightening for him. He believes that you are the talent you bring to the table – workers don’t belong to the company any more. Rick has always done a good job of networking and helping people throughout his successful career, and that comes around for people like him. It’s a competitive landscape, but he’s found that there is plenty of work to go around. Companies get an immediate return on investment, which is a value that keeps them coming back for more. Rick knows first-hand that the movement towards job sharing will be the future of talent and company design.

Building a network of fixed-duration professionals and adjusting to a new leadership organization takes time. As they adapt, “Small businesses will develop their own collaborative networks of contingent workers, minimizing fixed labor costs and expanding the available talent pool” (Intuit). As a life sciences talent professional with over 25 years of experience, I’d advise leaders to get ahead of the curve and start benefiting from these advantages by experimenting with non-permanent employment within their own organization. The sophisticated “gig economy” and interim talent trend makes available more professionals than ever before, generating a healthy networking environment for building future opportunities for success and innovation. This trend also allows for a better work/life balance, which is attractive to the millennial population entering the workforce and senior employees prepared to use their experience in a new way. Rick claims he has had more enjoyment and satisfaction since he pursued his own consulting business. He has no intentions of slowing down.

Interested in learning more about interim talent? Contact me today.

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