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Evolving Contingent Work Trends and How Companies Can Benefit From Them

The continual growth of contingent work makes one thing clear: it’s here to stay. More and more individuals are opting for the autonomy and flexibility of contingent work, especially as technology[...]

May 19, 2020

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How Generational Diversity Fuels Contingent Workforce Success

A recent economic research report published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco offers an important reminder that diversity extends far beyond race, religion, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. The multigenerational workforce today is vast and unprecedented. And what some diversity discussions have missed is that age discrimination is on the rise again. Let’s examine the often-overlooked challenges facing mature talent -- and how contingent workforce leaders can enhance client success by tapping into this goldmine of experience and skill.

Economic Prosperity Requires Seasoned Talent

In coming decades, the population of individuals age 65 and older in the U.S. workforce is projected to rise sharply—from about 19 percent currently to 29 percent by the year 2060. Yet because ageism persists, mature talent report lower employment numbers. Economists at the Federal Reserve see this as a catalyst to public policy and economic challenges.

“Population aging and the consequent increased financial burden on the U.S. Social Security system is driving new proposals for program reform,” the study’s authors explain. “One major reform goal is to create stronger incentives for older individuals to stay in the workforce longer. However, hiring discrimination against older workers creates demand-side barriers that limit the effectiveness of these supply-side reforms. Evidence from a field experiment designed to test for hiring discrimination indicates that age discrimination makes it harder for older individuals, especially women, to get hired into new jobs.”

Policy efforts have largely focused on reforming Social Security by reducing benefits for early eligibility and lowering taxes on earnings after benefits are claimed. However, such supply-side reforms could have little effect on boosting the labor pool of older workers if discriminatory hiring practices remain.

“Age discrimination in hiring may be critical to whether older people can work substantially longer, because many seniors transition to part-time or shorter-term partial retirement or ‘bridge’ jobs at the end of their careers,” the report says. And that’s why the contingent workforce management plays a pivotal role in capitalizing on the skills and contributions of seasoned professionals.

The Importance of Generational Diversity

As New American Media noted in its article on ageism, “The Census Bureau predicts that by 2030 there will be more older adults than children and teens, about 81 million. Given the ageism that persists, researchers say we can expect more people to be isolated in their later years, and that can lead to serious health problems like depression, and physical ailments, according to Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of the AARP Foundation.”

Mercer’s 2015 Age-Friendly Employer report found that inclusion policies tended to stop short of older workers. In fact, the overwhelming majority of respondents, at 87 percent, didn’t measure hiring manager practices when it came to mature talent. Of the 13 percent who did, about half discovered that managers failed to actively hire workers older than themselves.

Last September, Money magazine also reported on some distressing trends: “Economists at the University of California at Irvine and Tulane University found strong evidence of age discrimination in hiring, particularly for older women. The researchers sent out 40,000 dummy job applications that included signals on the job-seekers' ages, and then monitored the response rates. They measured callback rates for various occupations; workers age 49-51 applying for administrative positions had a callback rate 29 percent lower than younger workers, and it was 47 percent lower for workers over age 64. Other studies suggest that the long-term jobless rate for women over age 55 is several percentage points higher than it is for men.”

Experienced talent have skills, expertise and wisdom that greatly benefit younger colleagues. Back when the first personal computers were rolling out of startups like Apple and Microsoft, the workforce was productively multigenerational. Younger programmers looked to mature engineers for guidance, insight and intelligence in a burgeoning new industry. The common bond was a passion for the product. Today, as Generation Z prepares to enter the workforce – and with a deficit in emerging leadership – mentoring will become imperative. Discounting the contributions of seasoned talent is no different than neglecting the capabilities of minorities or transgender persons.

At the dawn of the Great Recession, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), ageism spiked. In 2014, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission recorded 21,396 claims.

“In a survey of more than 1,502 older adults, about 64 percent say they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Of those, 92 percent say it is very or somewhat common,” observed the AARP in its report, “Staying Ahead of the Curve.”

Fortunately, contingent workforce leaders can help clients overcome these challenges to build the most robust workforces imaginable.

Focusing on Older Workers is Focusing on the Future of Business

One in five workers is aged 55 or older. By 2050, the number of people over 65 will triple worldwide. About 84 percent of the companies polled by Mercer confessed that they lacked effective processes and behaviors in regard to mature talent. In his book “Become a 21st Century Executive: Breaking Away from the Pack,” Nigel Dessau emphasizes the importance of mature workers’ contributions to a much younger population of talent: “We make assumptions that older employees may be less flexible and less willing to adapt. The opportunity is not to look at the skills they don’t have but to look at the skills and experience they do have. Those may be valuable to your teams.”

Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the Wharton School of Business, authored the 2010 book “Managing the Older Worker.” In it, he explained how older talent “soundly thrash” their younger counterparts when it comes to actual job performance: “Every aspect of job performance gets better as we age… I thought the picture might be more mixed, but it isn’t. The juxtaposition between the superior performance of older workers and the discrimination against them in the workplace just really makes no sense.”

Older workers offer finely honed abilities, perspectives, patience and experience with nearly every business situation. They’re also less likely to hop jobs than Millennials.

How Contingent Workforce Leaders Can Help

Contingent work is ideal for mature talent because it supports the independence and flexibility they’re seeking; they still long to participate and contribute, yet they also want more control over their schedules. That should not imply, however, that older workers lack the vitality, dedication and capabilities of their younger colleagues. Last September, HR thought leader Tim Sackett pointed out the many benefits of what he called “the gray wave.” Which qualities continue to make older talent valuable and relevant? According to Sackett:

  • They don’t have kids pulling them constantly off their game.
  • While possibly not as tech savvy, they have experience in getting things done in different ways and they won’t panic when the internet goes down for 15 minutes.
  • They grew up in a time when work life balance meant you worked until the job was done.
  • They’re willing to be loyal to you for the next 7-10 years, which is more loyalty than you’ll get from anyone else you hire.
  • Older workers statistically don’t miss work more than younger workers.

Forecasting and Organizational Assessment

Understanding the state of one’s workforce is critical in any context. Managed Service Providers (MSPs) are excellent examples of contingent workforce leadership in this aspect. During discovery and implementation, MSPs often serve as workforce consultants who help clients understand their current and future state goals more clearly. This insight can be an excellent predictor of when older talent may be preparing to exit, and where more mature workers can help fill crucial gaps.

  • The program data collected in contingent workforce engagements can better identify which workers could be retiring, and then illustrate the impacts to the organization. If these professionals are taking indispensable knowledge and domain experience with them, an MSP or staffing firm can target eligible and equally tenured talent to replace them.
  • Staffing leaders will be better positioned to help clients address the challenges of skills shortages arising from this type of attrition.
  • In an MSP solution, program managers coordinate with their staffing partners to create a work environment and recruiting strategies that attract qualified workers based on qualifications, skills and potential rather than age.
  • Staffing professionals have unparalleled expertise in managing the varied needs of diverse, multi-cultural workforces. This experience translates easily into supporting multigenerational talent as well, particularly where benefits and accommodations come into play.
  • Contingent workforce leaders are adept at designing employer brands that attract and retain top talent across all labor and diversity categories. Their strategies concentrate on merit rather than superficial attributes.

Enhanced and Targeted Recruiting

Through the vast resources of recruiters or staffing partners, contingent workforce leaders enjoy a level of access to the best candidates on the market, which trumps the limitations corporate recruiters face. They have also perfected non-traditional recruitment strategies to source talent from all walks of life, vocational experiences, industries and skill sets.

  • Contingent workforce experts tap into alumni networks, recommendations from professional associations, and referrals from niche groups that cater to mature talent.
  • Their recruiters join relevant industry groups and subscribe to targeted lists, directories and community organizations such as AARP.
  • More than a client’s internal recruitment team, staffing firms have a widely diverse bench of recruiting experts, including older professionals who can concentrate on networking-based strategies for workers similar to them: a combination of job boards, social media, online marketplaces, associations, professional directories, special interest groups and other sources relevant to mature talent.
  • Engagement affects an individual's’ output, opportunities, development and competencies. Seasoned talent are no exception. Outsourced staffing professionals have the time hiring managers don’t. They’re better empowered to devote their efforts to supporting the accommodations, inclusion and logistical needs of mature talent.
  • Contingent labor programs facilitate flexible work situations and adapt job designs to meet the preferences and physical constraints of older workers.
  • More than bloated salaries, mature talent seek a stronger mix of benefits options and incentives, such as continuing education assistance, training for new skills, employee discounts and flexible hours. Most staffing professionals can offer benefits like these to workers. This can help create a more competitive rate structure by providing incentives over higher pay.
  • As experts in maintaining labor compliance and diversity strategies for clients, contingent workforce leaders understand and exhibit the virtues of treating all talent in a fair and consistent manner, relying on performance-based management processes that prevent discrimination.

Wisdom Can’t Be Taught, Yet It Can Be Recruited

A truly diverse workforce cultivates creativity, productivity and innovation by bringing together talent from disparate backgrounds and experiences. It’s essential today to harness the power of workers from different cultures, genders, backgrounds, orientations, communities and age brackets. As an entire generation begins to depart from the employment landscape -- bringing with them a vast repository of knowledge and experience -- it’s imperative that we harness the power of these mentors and professionals to groom the future leaders of the workforce.

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