The Contingent Workforce; a Ticking Time Bomb?

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The growing competition for talent globally has highlighted the critical value of the human resource to business success. As the economic landscape becomes increasingly competitive, it has never been more important for companies to find the right people before their rivals do. And then hold onto them for dear life due to the difficulty and high cost of replacing top performers.

The result is that we’re entering the Age of The Employee Experience. In this new world, employers are waking up to the importance of doing everything they can to attract and keep key people by offering an array of incentives beyond a competitive salary, including flexible working and other wellbeing-related packages. Organisations are also keen to prove their ESG credentials as they know social and environmental factors are rising up the employee agenda.

The need for agility in the global marketplace is also driving companies to develop a contingent workforce. This is to not only have the scalability to react more quickly than their competition to sudden changes in demand, but also to help cope with flash crises like the pandemic or an economic downturn. This is helping to swell the gig economy, which grew in the UK from 4.7 million in 2019 to an estimated 7.25 million today, according to UK Government figures.

The contingent experience

According to PwC’s Workforce of the Future Study, a quarter of employees want to be in control of the work they do and when they do it, while 47% of respondents believe people will increasingly be free agents. This means growing emphasis is being placed on improving the experience of the contingent workforce, just like it is with permanent employees. But with one vital difference.

Many organisations run rigorous compliance and background pre-employment screening on their permanent headcount to check for a criminal record or other factors that could harm the business and threaten the safety of their staff, customers, or partners. However, for temporary staff, it’s common to devolve this task to their recruitment agency partners.

Why is this a problem? Because it places an additional burden on agencies that can take them outside their comfort zones and put unnecessary pressure on their team and their business. Compliance issues of this nature are becoming increasingly complex. This makes it very difficult and increasingly resource intensive for agencies to keep up with evolving legislation.

Recruitment and compliance also require very different skills, expertise and investments. Critical to the security of a business and its people, the highly complex background checking required for temporary staff demands a level of rigour and diligence that agencies specialising in finding rather than vetting talent can unsurprisingly find difficult to achieve. And it’s an area where there is absolutely no margin for error.

Devastating effects

It doesn’t bear thinking about the consequences of someone you’ve recruited harming a client’s member of staff or threatening the entire organisation by compromising critical data. Particularly, if it was missed that the candidate had a criminal record.

There have been several high-profile workforce screening failures recently, which have undermined public confidence and had catastrophic consequences. It is quite simply a major business risk factor that must be taken just as seriously for the contingent workforce as the permanent one – if not more so. The challenges are only likely to become more acute in the coming era of overseas recruiting to relieve the growing skills gap, worsened by Brexit. International background checking will have growing prominence, adding further complexity and demanding even more specialist skills and expertise.

In this new age, optimising the client and employee experience means a top business priority should be ensuring pre-employment screening is thoroughly and expertly carried out. Otherwise, the contingent workforce is a time bomb that could explode at any moment with devastating effects for both organisations and their agency partners. In this increasingly complex area, recruitment agencies are likely to be chasing somewhat of a ‘fool’s errand’ in trying to excel at both recruiting AND compliance, which should make finding the right compliance partner a priority.

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