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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 Experts OnTap 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 jobholders; 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 Life Science professionals and a proprietary experiential vetting strategy, our clients find value in accessing 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 unique 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, the client needed access to a highly specialized independent expert to perform manufacturing due diligence and evaluate the capability of a facility to support their cell therapy technology.  Leveraging the “on-demand” model, the company was impressed at not only the specificity of experts sourced through the platform, but also with how quickly the assignment was completed – including a site audit, full GxP eval, and executive summary – and achieved significant cost and time savings.

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. These newer platforms, match more than just technical background to the clients’ project. They strategically identify people based on a wide variety of quantitative and qualitative measures to assure clients are 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 managed 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

Labor force flexibility is changing the way companies do business by bringing in agile experts to provide in-demand expertise. These new, innovative, platforms are accelerating the speed and specificity of the knowledge base companies can leverage. Furthermore, with the ability to engage on a project basis, with independent experts highly skilled at the particular task at hand, the time to deliver is accelerated as well. With the remote acceptability given the pandemic, workforces are less constrained by geography, making the flexible workforce more feasible and favorable for many.

Time to market 

Many managers are faced with the ebbs and flow of new initiatives. Once a new drug or device is approved, or a new project receives funding, it is “all-hands-on-deck.” Accessing on-demand, highly specialized consultants, brings an innovative solution to ramping up bandwidth without having to hire and train. Additionally, many times, independent experts have worked on similar initiatives in like-minded organizations, bringing lessons learned and an experienced approach to the table.

Business model innovation

For many companies, the ability to pull-in highly specialized expertise on a project-basis provides their internal teams, clients and customers access to targeted knowledge outside of their core competencies. Organizations such as medical device companies, niche consulting firms, clinical trials agencies, and groups devoted to a more agile talent strategy can leverage the exact specialized skill sets required for a project or initiative near-instantly, without the overhead and lag-time of hiring a full-time member of their team.

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 expertise 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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