Redeploying contingent workers: yes or no?

There’s a global shortage of workers across almost every sector. We’ve seen logistics supply chains failing due to driver shortages, factory operations working at low capacity when workers can’t be found, and hospitality businesses shutting their doors because they can’t find staff.

While it may be a more extreme scenario, there was also the case of fruit company Keelings flying 189 seasonal staff from Bulgaria to Ireland at the beginning of the pandemic because they couldn’t find the staff they needed. Now I’ll admit, flying people across borders to work when there’s global lockdowns in place is controversial and a bit on the excessive side, but there’s arguably method in this madness.

Moving skills around

Contingent workers are a commodity for businesses. Just as you’d expect a company to be able to move its inventory around to deliver on global requirements, people resources should also be utilized on a global scale.

Of course I’m not suggesting that recruitment agencies start mandating working across international borders to their contingent workers. However, they certainly shouldn’t be taking a siloed approach to the resources they have on their books.

Now I 100% get that this isn’t easy, largely because employers themselves are more narrowly focused when it comes to the contingent workforce. Global businesses will take a location-by-location approach to temporary recruitment needs. They want to know who is available in the country to work already, if they have the appropriate training qualifications and work permits, and they want to know when they can start.

If you, their recruitment partner, can’t deliver on that, they’ll approach someone else. They very rarely take a more strategic global look at the resources you’re already providing them with or that you can tap into. To me, this is hugely frustrating in today’s skills-short world.

Businesses often have a ready-engaged pool of talent sitting in one location who know the company, know what service is expected and are already on the books of their staffing supplier. But they’re overlooked because that means redeploying them to a new country temporarily, and who would want to be paid to work somewhere new for an assignment? (I know sarcasm can sometimes be lost in the written word, but I’m hoping it hits the mark here!)

Taking a new view

Perhaps one of the other biggest challenges when it comes to redeploying global contingent workers, though, is that too many employers have become stuck in their ways. Businesses wouldn’t think twice about moving a full time employee with the skills they need from one location to another to deliver against the changing needs of the market. So why not contingent workers?

Because they are too often thought of as ‘just a temporary resource’. But how many times has one individual been pulled into a role with the company? Take the sanitation sector. Cleaning teams may be repurposed time and again for one specific location. But how much are they used in bordering countries?

No, not everyone wants to fully relocate for a temporary job, but seasonal opportunities like the fruit picking one I mention above have an appeal. The infrastructure in some countries also means it is more than feasible to live in one place and work across the border.

There are, of course, complex compliance requirements when it comes to redeploying contingent workers internationally, but in my view, they’re worth navigating. It will take a level of education in the broader employment market. Recruitment agencies will need to show employers why they should be redeploying more workers. But the opportunities this presents makes the time investment worthwhile.

Chartering your own worker flight

Wouldn’t it be great if recruitment firms had their own, fully branded (and maybe luxury) chartered jet to fly their contingent workers around the globe? That may be a pipe dream, but the end aim isn’t as ludicrous as it sounds.

The global worker shortages aren’t going to just disappear. There’s not enough people in every international location needed to fill jobs in warehousing, sanitation firms, logistics, transport and much more. But there are pockets of resources that can be shifted and moved where needed. We just need to shift mindsets from thinking of contingent workers as temporary resources, to the recognition of what they are: a hugely valuable, movable and flexible workforce that can move around where we need. Borders are meaningless if you want them to be.

James Lawton Enterprise Account Executive
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