As the gig economy grows across Asia, it will undoubtedly impact where and how talent is sourced. Already, growing numbers of individuals – both young entrants to the labour market and more experienced professionals opting out of the rat race – are choosing to build portfolio careers of piecemeal work. But how fast are things moving, and what does that mean for HR departments and recruiters thinking strategically about the future?

In August, Bob Aubrey, chairman of the HR committee of the European Chamber of Commerce in Singapore took part in a retreat in Silicon Valley, hosted by Kevin Wheeler’s Future of Talent company in the US, to discuss the role of HR in the gig economy. Wheeler concluded that sourcing talent would be “less focused on traditional recruitment” and become “more like being an agent for high value professionals working outside the company to fill the company’s needs”.

That chimes with the views of other experts, that the freedoms implicit in the gig economy mean employers will have access to huge amounts of talented individuals who they often make contact with online – but that finding, engaging and managing the right talent will become trickier thanks to such abundance.

HR consultancy Mercer said there were three main developments needed to ensure recruiters stayed on top of a changing landscape. The first is to become more data-focussed to understand talent and performance, Lewis Garrad, employee research and engagement – growth markets, at Mercer, said. As the gig economy grows, it is important to have accurate and reliable sources of data to find the best talent for the right “gig” and reward it appropriately.

Secondly, the building of stronger capabilities to manage the “ecosystem of people” is essential, Garrad said. Right now, many organisations think of teams as “consistent groups of people” but as the “gig economy opens, the possibility of more fluid and ‘on-demand’ team formation to solve specific business or client problems” emerges.

Finally, HR need to consider “employees and gig workers more like customers – helping people have more compelling experiences at work to strengthen engagement and commitment”, he said.

Natellie Sun, managing director at recruitment agency Randstad Hong Kong, advised recruitment professionals to “think outside the box” when it came to hiring solutions. Acknowledging market volatility in the gig economy and being flexible on candidate profiles is important, Sun said. HR also needs to streamline the recruitment process to correlate with the contract period to avoid losing candidates – for example, reducing interview rounds and shortening the process for a four-month contract role. And as the gig economy helps employees develop their career fast, it is “not advisable to evaluate candidates based on their own set parameters of contract work”, she noted.

The gig economy is taking off fast. The Singaporean government is providing incentives for companies offering flexible work arrangements for employees under its ‘Work-Life Grant’ programme. And Indonesian transport start-up Go Jek (widely seen as a rival to Uber), which started with motorcycle taxis in Jakarta, is expanding into other services, and boosting the gig economy in the country, Aubrey noted.

The seven-year-old organisation has 2,500 full time employees and 500,000 drivers, with plans to set up a Go Academy for learning which will be extended to the half-million gig workers who deliver services, Aubrey said. In Hong Kong, the flexible workspace market enjoyed 16 per cent growth in the last year, according to Recruitment International data published in August 2017. There are now 202 flexible workspaces in Hong Kong compared to 330 in New York.

That said, the gig economy can be “a double-edged sword for the Singapore HR sector” said Usa Skulkerewathana, senior lecturer from the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School’s department of management and organisation. While it gives employers more choice to select the best people for specific, short-term jobs from a larger pool of highly mobile individuals, it also means that more freelancers can select temporary jobs and projects that suit their preference around the world.

A key question being raised is the lack of safeguards for flexible workers. According to Aubrey, the idea of job security has become a much small factor in the wake of a growing contingent workforce. He said that “employability and lifelong development are replacing job security – freelancers will be better able to manage their own security by pricing the cost into their fees”.

For Garrad, the gig economy is undermining hard-won rights by labour movements, and many agree that gig workers are being used to circumvent the commitments of employing full-time workers, he said. Consequently, “we will potentially see the emergence of organisations that provide employment benefits to gig workers collectively”. Garrad said.

As the body of gig economy workers grows, “their voices may become stronger, and they might be able to lobby for more things,” NUS Business School senior lecturer Lowe Joo Yong added. Organisations that see these “independent workers as a valued part of their workforce” may proactively want to look into workers’ needs (other than pay), Lowe said, adding: “It could be a win-win for both parties.”

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