Solving the Talent Crunch

The HR Daily Advisor recently sat down with Zoe Harte, Senior Vice President of Human Resources & Talent Innovation at Upwork to discuss the current hiring crisis and what can be done about it.

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HR Daily Advisor: Many HR professionals report they are struggling with finding the right person for the right task in today’s economy. What are some of the forces causing this issue?

Zoe Harte: Well, let’s start with the obvious—the historically low unemployment rate is creating unprecedented shortages among top-tier talent.

But another key issue is the challenge of workforce planning when the half-life of skills is shrinking so dramatically. By the time a position pops up on their radar, there’s already an acute need, and more often than not, the competition for employees with that exact skill is fierce.

And finally, more workers than ever are just not interested in a full-time position. Whereas “contractor” or “freelancer” used to be shorthand for “not yet employed,” that’s no longer the case: The “Freelancing in America: 2017” report finds that nearly 65% of current freelancers started freelancing by choice rather than out of necessity. What’s more, nearly half
say they wouldn’t take a traditional job for any amount of money.

These three drivers point to one clear model—the need to embrace a project-based approach. The good news is that HR is seeing the benefits of reframing its talent needs this way.

HR Daily Advisor: What are some of the pitfalls or challenges of existing contingent models?

Zoe Harte: Existing contingent workforce models are no longer efficient in meeting accelerating talent needs. Companies today spend trillions on contingent labor, but the current model of engaging with contingent labor has not changed all that much in the last 20 years.

There are a few challenges at play here:

  1. The first is that there are too many intermediary steps in the talent supply chain, and the cost structures are prohibitive. Companies pay more than they should, but what’s worse is that the pay rate for candidates is too low. Due to existing inefficiencies in the system, workers are paid less than they should be, which leads to talent scarcity.
  2.  The second problem is speed: Our Future Workforce Report finds it still takes an average of 36 days to fill an opening and can be far longer for specialized roles, and while that may have sufficed decades ago, today, that seems like an eternity in an environment where you’re getting increasing pressure from the management team to move fast.
  3. The third thing is that most hiring models are constrained by geography, and given the rise in specialized skills, it’s unlikely you are going to find the exact skill you need in your local market. Companies need a better way to find and engage talent.

HR Daily Advisor: How do HR professionals measure the impact of the freelancers they have hired; i.e., are there ways that they can track effectiveness to help develop best practices for future hiring?

Zoe Harte: The first goal of HR professionals is to find a clear line of sight into their total talent supply. After all, they can’t measure what they don’t see. But when your freelance workforce is spread across divisions, we realize that can be a challenge. There are tools out there that can help HR professionals manage contracts and communications with their freelancer workforce from a centralized solution; in fact, we recently introduced our new Program Owner Experience to help HR professionals better track the effectiveness of their freelance workforce.

HR Daily Advisor: Full-time employees are easy to “keep track of,” so to speak. What are some ways that HR departments can track their use of contingent workers to help fill gaps in a cost-effective manner?

Zoe Harte: This is where I see HR asserting its role in the driver’s seat—by taking control of measuring results and then helping departments analyze their use of freelancers for maximum efficiency. Today’s HR leaders have access to a greater breadth of data and a longer-term picture that puts people at the center. People analytics help provide HR leaders with a comprehensive picture of their workforce so they can more accurately identify skills gaps within their organization and the types of projects that can be done with freelancers. Utilizing sites like Upwork, HR leaders can track their use of freelance workers by running real-time reports on freelancer spend across hiring managers, teams, or lines of business. This allows HR to assess the return on investment and make more informed hiring decisions that will move the business forward.

HR Daily Advisor: How are companies measuring the impact of their contingent workforces, and what can HR professionals do to assert their role in this key aspect of talent management?

 Zoe Harte: As the model for contingent workforces shifts, so will the need to tie it all to the bottom line. While companies have programs in place to measure the ROI of FTEs, those best practices are still emerging for the agile workforce. That’s one of the key reasons we introduced our Program Owner Experience—to support HR professionals who are seeing their role develop.

Zoë Harte leads talent strategy at Upwork. As such, she has guided the growth of the company’s team by more than 50 percent since its merger in spring of 2014. She implements innovative management approaches and focuses on building a mission-driven culture for Upwork’s team of employees and global network of freelancers. Her team includes HR business partnerships, learning and development, workplace management, recruitment, compliance and onboarding, talent innovation and HR operations. Hart was recently named to SIA’s Global Power 100 Women in Staffing List.

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