George Bradt‘s article, here on Forbes, on the top three questions employers ask, proved to be very popular (1.5 million views). But it got me thinking in a different direction.
During the same week that George published his piece, a Time magazine blogger was pointing out that the majority of workers will be free agents by 2020 (that data comes from consultants MBO who presented it at the Dec 2011 GigaOm NetWork Conference).
70 million people will not be in a job (up from around 40 million today). Going freelance will be a dominant experience over the next 8 years.
Our employers by 2020 might be an employer for a week or a month.
And while we are working for them we’ll be rustling up work elsewhere as well as spending 20% of time writing stuff to improve our public reputations, networking ourselves into teams that are positioning for work (for example through a big consulting firm), and teasing out what new directions our skills base can take us.
So what does work look like when half of America is not in a job?
I hear the language of the employee ecosystem growing. Employers want to foster a rich employee ecosystem that is strong on group loyalty but ecosystems of freelance teams who can step into an expansion opportunity and fill it out quickly are also important (and the reason why the big consulting companies will double in size by 2020).
Today’s companies know they need to scale fast and increasingly want to hire a team not a bunch of individuals.
There isn’t a whole lot written about that employee ecosystem, or concrete experience and expertise to filter out into the growing contractor work base. Here are a few thoughts based on my experience, drawing also on clues from around the web
#1. The One and Only Question Employers Will Ask
For those of us in the contractor workforce there are not three questions to ask us. Employers want to know one thing and one thing only.
Part 1 of that questions is: Can you deliver. But part 2 is the scary bit – when we don’t really know what we need?
Many of the people I talk to in the contractor base tell the same story. Employers really don’t know what precisely they are looking for.
They have been surrounded by agencies of one kind or another, and specialist suppliers for much of the working life of their executives. They are used to having expertise on tap. As the economy changes they know they need to tap into new skill sets but they rely on the contractor to clarify what the tasks and outcomes need to be.
That in turn means they are looking for people with a very high moral outlook and a reputation for being cost effective and honest. But they need to function at scale and they don’t want to have someone land them on a hook. The larger consultancies partially solve the first problem, definitely solve the second, but create the third.
For the lone contractor the lesson has to be: forge a team, get close to groups, and get better at creating a brand that has some substance. Heck, lead why don’t you?
#2. Public reputation
Readwriteweb carried a fascinating piece last week on Oracle’s acquisition of Taleo, a talent database company.
While there’s considerable discussion about businesses looking to Facebook as a trusted provider of identity – of data specifying who someone is – Taleo has been busy building a repository of what people have done. It’s being contributed to by a growing number of corporate customers.
The product of these contributions could become for individuals’ careers what credit reports have become to their financial status. Oracle and Taleo will not be without competition; SAP made a similar acquisition play with SuccessFactors last December, and analysts are expecting Salesforce‘s new Successforce – created from its acquisition of Rypple the same month – to produce an equally competitive cloud-based talent management provider.