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The Instant-On, On-Demand Workforce

How have the pandemic, IT advances, remote working, skill set requirements and other influences in these fast-changing times affected our strategies and practices in hiring? Quite a lot, and it’s the responsibility of every company to keep up with the needs and opportunities that are before us. In addition, how do we deal with the loss of 10,000 Boomers from the workforce every day, and the capabilities and expectations of the millennials and Gen Z cohorts that we may not fully understand?

To the rescue come new talent platforms – InnoCentive, Kaggle, Toptal, Upwork – and industry-targeted resources like ExpertsOnTap for the life sciences. Going beyond the business models of Uber and TaskRabbit, these focus more narrowly on the highly-skilled workers you need to identify.

This is a need long-developing and critical to success. A higher-skilled workforce promises more flexibility, greater efficiency, faster turnaround in times of flux, and especially improved innovation and competitiveness.  surprise to us, because in recent years we’ve seen how they can increase labor force flexibility, accelerate time to market, and enable innovation. And this is happening across the landscape – in short- and long-term assignments, for tactical and strategic needs, and in an increasing array of specialized positions.  

The Gig Economy

It’s estimated that over one-third of US workers (36%) participate in the gig economy, either through their primary or secondary jobs. This number comprises around 57 million Americans. It’s not just multiple job holders; for 29% of U.S. workers, their primary job is actually an alternative work arrangement. The market for talent can be divided into two main areas

These platforms, which include such companies as Toptal and Experts OnTap, allow clients to easily source high-end niche experts — anybody from big-data scientists to strategic project managers and even interim CEOs and CFOs. Toptal, for example, claims it culls the “top 3%” of freelancers from across the globe. Experts might be hired for strategic initiatives or embedded in teams, and the projects they’re assigned to can range in length from a few hours to more than a year.  Experts OnTap seamlessly connects clients in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device and diagnostic sectors to vetted experts for a host of assignments: hour-long consultations, short projects, and extended projects. In fact, these consultants are often brought on for a single task, but the company subsequently discovers their worth and broadens the scope of the assignment.

Experts OnTap CEO Pierce Kraft notes that “With an industry-specific network of over 300,000+ professionals, and a proprietary experiential vetting strategy, we enable our clients to access the exact expertise they need, how and when they need it most. We also provide clients with the ability to custom-source experts, all through our proprietary engagement platform.

Marketplaces for freelance workers.

These platforms, which include Upwork, Freelancer, and 99designs, match individuals with companies for discrete task-oriented projects—designing a logo, say, or translating a legal document. Many freelance platforms offer access to workers from around the world with a wide variety of skills, and payment is often per completed task. Covid-19 is accelerating the move toward these platforms, too: As large swaths of society began working remotely, Upwork saw a spike in demand for digital marketing expertise from companies trying to reach consumers in their homes.

Early Lessons  

In studying how talent platforms are being used, we’ve identified three areas where companies have consistently found platforms most useful:

Flexibility: Often you don’t need specific kinds of expertise for long periods. So the ability to access them for a limited task and a limited time is highly efficient.  They also bring with them knowledge that may not be available inside your workforce, things that they have learned elsewhere that can provide a competitive benefit.  

For instance, Experts OnTap had a biopharmaceutical client that required expertise in an esoteric area of cell therapy. In a short timeframe, to perform manufacturing due diligence and evaluate the capability of a facility to support their cell therapy technology.  Once the consultant was brought on board, the company was impressed with how quickly the assignment was completed – including a site audit, full GxP eval and executive summary – and achieved significant cost and time savings. This led to an indefinite extension of the expert’s commitment.

Direct to source top level expertise: Traditional consulting firms have their own self-serving business model, which often predicts including lower-level team members when the client was expecting the full attention of the top subject-matter expert.   The newer resources, like Experts OnTap, match more than just technical background to client project. They strategically identify people based on a wide variety of quantitative and qualitative measures to assure clients of working with experts who have very literally “been there and done that.”  

Contracting, Compliance, and Confidentiality: Additionally particular to the new entities, the assurances of contracting, compliance, and confidentiality are handled for you and built into the process, not separated as extras.  Networks have a pre-defined process to ensure that each and every expert maintains the highest compliance and confidentiality throughout the engagement and beyond.  And when you are contracting with a single entity, it reduces exposure and makes the process seamless.

Cost: Perhaps most dramatically, these emerging platforms have an approach that ensures cost effectiveness. It includes all the necessaries – access to the best minds, prescribed deadlines, assurance that your expert will be the one person you can depend on – and adds to that the availability of this expertise without the astronomical salaries or significant benefits you normally associate with that kind of assistance. The hourly basis model gives you more control and efficiency.

Labor force flexibility

Pierce Kraft relates Experts OnTap’s experience with a medtech company. “They needed an operations leader to take a team through a critical process deciding on in-house vs. external contract manufacturing. Obviously, this required someone with an unbiased point of view. Our consultant saved the company time and completed the assignment in just ten weeks, evaluating potential suppliers vs. internal production. This involved assessing the company’s global supply chain. He identified key risks, and trained internal personnel on make vs. buy assessments identified opportunities for improving the supply base,   augmenting their ability to replicate the process in the future.  This led to rapid decision-making and an even greater provision of value than the client anticipated.  And company was able to maintain key partner and supplier relationships, even when conducting a sensitive analysis.”

Time to market 

Many managers have turned to talent platforms to fast-track processes, meet deliverables, and ensure outcomes. Experts OnTap had a medical device client that needed to navigate customs compliance, FDA clearance and tariffs to ensure seamless logistics. Within days a leading logistics and regulatory compliance expert was brought in via their Lifeline Model, which provides access to an expert on call as needed. Well within a tight turnaround timeframe, the expert had helped with customs, regulations, brokers, and timely distribution of product domestically and internationally.

Business model innovation

Digital talent platforms can also help companies reinvent the way they deliver value.  For a a biopharmaceutical client that was looking to manufacture a new device, the task was to evaluate potential CDMOs (Contract Development and Manufacturing Organizations) as partners for the project. In days, they had a thorough analysis and proposal with regard to potential partners. This was so successful that the company continued to leverage the consultant for further tasks. 

The constancy of change

It has been an axiom for many years that change is the norm. But today, change is accelerating more rapidly than we ever anticipated. New workers, new skills, new technology, new practices, new competition, new pressures of all types are rushing at us with astonishing speed.

And so it becomes necessary to identify and access new leverage in order to maintain and increase our own competitiveness and efficiency. These new platforms provide that, in line with the new world of the gig economy. Now, instead of making attenuated hiring decisions involving negotiated salaries and benefits, geography, and other complex conditions, you can have immediate help on your doorstep at an affordable cost and a defined timeframe, through the innovative practices provided by Experts OnTap, InnoCentive, Toptal and others of their ilk.

November / December 2020

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