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These Are the 3 Biggest Trends in Workforce Innovation

Keeping up with the changing world requires constant innovation — and this includes hiring. Evolving technology, the shifting generational makeup of the workforce, and a candidate-centric market[...]

February 18, 2020

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New Century, New Talent: A Blast From The Past

The adoption of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) changed the face of employment. Our notion of the standard employee is actually a modern concept. Prior to World War II, workers functioned more like independent contractors. They were responsible for their own benefits, their own taxes and they worked under limited standards for hours, job security and wages. Fewer than four million Americans paid federal income tax during that era.


The execution of the FLSA set a national minimum wage, established maximum work hours and enforced child labor protections. Moreover, the federal government began pressuring employers to recognize their workers’ rights to membership in the burgeoning unions of the time, which led to employer-sponsored benefits, vacation pay and income tax withholding.

Fast forward to the 21st century. The exponential advances in technology and communications have opened the doors for new kinds of commerce; decisions made halfway around the globe immediately influence markets worldwide. As a result, economic conditions have become more dynamic, creating a consistent state of flux that affects the size and composition of a company’s workforce. The environment is fluid, and survival depends on workforce flexibility. And that’s where things get interesting. As we fast forward -- pushing ourselves to adapt to future needs and to resculpt our business models -- we also rewind. It’s a bit of a time paradox where the old adage rings true: history is cyclical.

Despite the meteoric growth of technology and pioneering developments every day, we still don’t have Mr. Peabody’s WABAC Machine or Bill & Ted’s time-traversing phone booth or a Time Lord’s TARDIS. And yet by simply looking at our present, we step into a time machine that’s revealing all the shades of our past. Only 76 years ago, freelancers and independent contractors predominated the employment landscape. Today, one-third of the American workforce is again populated by varying iterations of indirect workers, contractors and freelancers, according to the Government Accountability Office’s most recent assessment. History, it would seem, is about to come full circle with the rise of talent who actively seek flexibility, freedom, autonomy and innovation. So what do the workers-du-jour look like? Let’s meet them.

A New, Independent and Dedicated Breed of Talent

We have touched on the rise of the millennial generation in past posts. Millennials represent 24 percent of the total U.S. population. They spawned the social media movement. More importantly, they are independent and entrepreneurial. They lack the same attachment to the idea of a career or the willingness to operate in static corporate environs. Growing up in the chaos of the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, they have become chaos-tolerant -- they accept and embrace the vagaries of change. And they are heralding the return of a workforce propelled by freelancers, contractors, consultants and independents.

In February 2014, media research company Nielsen published an enlightening report titled “Millennials: Breaking the Myths,” which shines a beacon on the qualities of today’s talent. To capitalize on their skills and values, we need to understand their motivations and inspirations.

World Citizens in a Global Marketplace

Millennials are diverse, expressive and optimistic. With 23 percent of Millennials holding college degrees, they represent the most educated generation. They are also the most racially and ethnically diverse group in today’s workforce. A large majority of Millennials, 71 percent, appreciate the influence other cultures exert on the American way of life. That’s nearly 10 percent more than the outgoing Boomer generation.

The varied background of Millennials, coupled with their affinity for diversity, is vital to the success of organizations today. Globalization contributes to rapid growth in industries, increased outsourcing and a need for multicultural savvy. Where the number of Boomers resulted from high birth rates, the presence of Millennials is fueled by immigration. This is important because the demographics of the nation are shifting to encompass unprecedented levels of diversity.

By 2050, according to estimates, the Hispanic population will grow by 167 percent, with Asians following close behind at 142 percent. The modern workforce will soon mirror a United Colors of Benetton ad more than a trailer for Mad Men. Millennials, as progressive global citizens with a fondness for eclectic cultural qualities, will foster acculturation for the companies they serve through much needed language skills, attitudes, experiences and perspectives.


Unlikely Optimists

Did you know the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks misery? It does, and we’re told the content doesn’t make for a fun read on a lazy afternoon. The Misery Index evaluates the economic well-being of a country and its various subgroups by examining unemployment and inflation rates. The BLS, on paper, has concluded that Millennials are miserable. Just don’t tell them that.

Millennials are resilient, ambitious and forward thinking. Though 69 percent admit to currently leading lifestyles below their expectations, 88 percent express confidence that they will succeed in reaching the tops of their professions. Their self-determination, cheerleading and optimism bring untold benefits to employers: strong work ethics, commitment to goals, a sense of purpose and accomplishment, and positive dispositions that bolster morale enterprise wide.

Evangelists Make the Best Brand Ambassadors

Social responsibility, philanthropy and advocacy are hallmarks of the erroneously dubbed “Me” generation. Over 50 percent of Millennials would rather be lauded as good parents than famous celebrities. The sweeping majority of Millennials cherish their responsibilities to care for others, including elders, while barely more than half of Boomers share this attitude.

Despite low wages and unsteady financial situations, roughly three-quarters of Millennials contribute their time and money to social causes, and they promote awareness of these endeavors through social networks by the same percentage. When Millennials seize on a cause, product or brand they fancy, they don’t merely endorse it -they evangelize it.

This ideology carries over to the companies from which they purchase products and services, as well as the companies for which they work. Employers who demonstrate the social responsibility, sustainability, ethos, customer care, authenticity and personalized attention that Millennials treasure will attract workers who shout their praises from the rooftops. Not only can this create the best kind of testimonial advertising across social media, it also enhances recruiting efforts through referrals and positive branding.

Millennials are Living Marketing Research Sources

Millennials are hip, informed and intelligent. Growing up online, they have an inherent grasp of technology in the information age. They constantly pore over social networks, 24-hour news aggregators, blogs, research wikis and pop culture sites. They know the latest and greatest products, and who’s buying them. Although they dominate all other generations in online investing, banking and shopping, their spending exceeds Boomers in brick-and-mortar warehouse clubs, supercenters and mass merchandisers. They value authenticity when considering purchases, and eagerly read and post reviews over social networks.

Millennials, close to half of them, also live in the urban areas where the bulk of commerce occurs. They have their fingers on the pulse of today’s target demographics. Tapping into their vast knowledge of market research and trends can open up entirely new, if nontraditional, marketing and sales channels for progressive employers.

Millennials Want to Be Part of Your Success, Not Just Part of Your Business

Millennials, because of their focus on causes, have also demonstrated a penchant for entrepreneurial pursuits and investments. Despite their young age and limited resources, nearly eight percent of Millennials operate their own businesses -- roughly on par with their older counterparts. Innovation and opportunity drive them; they don’t harbor expectations that employers will take care of them, they instead ask to contribute their expertise to the growth and success of the organizations they support. When invited to participate in these opportunities, Millennials will commit themselves fully to helping companies realize and attain their goals.

For employers, finding staffing suppliers who understand how to source and place this new generation of talent can open the doors to the future by returning to the flexible, cost effective employment models of our past. The Millennial workforce brings talent who function as motivated business partners and instrumental team members, invested in an organization’s mission, values, customers and vision -- not in merely collecting an organization’s paycheck or occupying an organization’s cubicles.


Photocredit: Chris Tank via Flickr 

Sunil Bagai
Sunil Bagai
Sunil is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, thought leader and influencer who is transforming the way companies think about and acquire talent. Blending vision, technology and business skills honed in the most innovative corporate environments, he has launched a new model for recruitment called Crowdstaffing which is being tapped successfully top global brands. Sunil is passionate about building a company that provides value to the complete staffing ecosystem including clients, candidates and recruiters.
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