In today’s business landscape no leader is untouched by the challenges of skills shortages or economic, political, or global market uncertainties. In this shifting world of work, talent-on-demand can provide both flexibility and stability, precisely when it’s needed. 

Johann van Niekerk, co-founder and CEO of Outsized

By 2030, the global skills shortage is expected to lead to $8,5-trillion in unrealised revenues. Despite this, the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report reveals that only 10% of businesses are tapping into diverse talent pools to boost talent availability and retention.

As the skills gap widens, competition for talent is going to increase. Businesses should urgently be looking at their business processes and talent strategies to mitigate the risk.

Is the future of work project based?

In uncertain environments, many organisations are turning to a more project-based approach to work. This approach, hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic, means that work is broken down into components, with a defined scope and start and end points.

I would argue that the future of work lies in the hybrid use of both permanent and on-demand independent talent for project-based work, and knowing how and when to use them.

Bringing independent talent onto a project allows businesses to balance having the niche skills available to deliver a project with being overstaffed when business slows down.

Some businesses may have ageing, traditional systems that need updating, but can’t spare the permanent staff to do it. Bringing in independent professionals means they can tackle the upgrades, while core staff continue with the day-to-day tasks that keep the business running.

Making use of independent talent also allows businesses to expand their offering. For example, a consulting firm that has only focused on strategy development for its clients, will have all the skills required for this. Bringing in additional independent talent with specialised skills means that they could expand their offering and also execute on the strategies they develop.

Businesses need to be able to tap into a pool of talent to access specialised skills on-demand, in a way that’s agile and fits their specific needs.

Enterprises, particularly consultancies, can leverage skilled freelancers not just for specific projects but as a strategic advantage; they can partner with on-demand talent providers and effectively build a ‘workforce in a box’. This strategy uses pre-vetted, skilled individuals or teams on a large scale across different business functions, providing rapid access to talent and facilitating growth opportunities while managing capital efficiently.

Hacking the skills shortage

The 2024 Outsized Talent-on-Demand report shows that the most in-demand skill segments in Africa last year included technology, data, change management and finance. Finding the talent to fill one of these positions on a permanent basis could take months, taking into account competition for talent, notice periods, and hiring processes.

Independent talent presents an elegant solution, allowing an organisation to rapidly fill capacity and capability gaps, and reduce the pressures of unfilled roles.

Increasing numbers of skilled professionals are moving away from traditional employment. For many, the allure of a permanent job at a global tech or consulting firm isn’t a draw card. Instead, they might be looking for a project that will really showcase their skills which allows smaller firms or those that don’t feature on Fortune 500 lists, to compete for top independent talent.

On the other hand, not everyone sees themselves working as an independent professional indefinitely. Bringing on someone independently initially (perhaps to plug a skills gap), provides a chance to determine if they’d be the right fit for a permanent role. Alternatively, it offers an opportunity to nurture an organisation’s talent pipeline, with a view to making long-term offers in the future.

In the face of business uncertainty and global skills shortages, talent-on-demand is not just a short-term fix. It’s a model that provides businesses and independent professionals with a strategic advantage in navigating the future of work. By harnessing the expertise of independent professionals, businesses can address their immediate needs, while also creating a flexible, agile, and adaptable environment.