Workers in control, tech-driven change: Collaboration in the Gig Economy

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September 24, 2021 — From putting workers in the driver’s seat to speeding up use of technology, the pandemic brought much change, and the world is not likely go back to what it was before.

Those are comments from Thursday’s keynote CEO panel, “The Next Generation of Innovation in the Gig Economy,” at Staffing Industry Analysts’ Collaboration in the Gig Economy Conference, held this week in Phoenix.

“If we don’t cater to the individual, we’re going to lose,” said panelist Kevin Akeroyd, CEO of PRO Unlimited.

The worker is now the base of power, and it’s a seller’s market, Akeroyd told the audience. It’s no longer about FTEs but how do you manage a portfolio of talent.

And don’t forget change.

“Change is going to go from scary to a competitive weapon,” he said.

However, panelist Alan Braynin, CEO and president of healthcare staffing firm Aya Healthcare, said things go in cycles. A future recession might turn the tables back in favor of client companies, and workforce ecosystem companies such as staffing firms must continue to focus both on workers and clients.

“You’ve got to think of things as a two-sided marketplace,” Braynin said. “That’s how staffing always was.”

In all, staffing firms have three sets of clients, he said: client companies, candidates and their own internal workforces.

Panel moderator Barry Asin, president of SIA, questioned panelists about the role of the pandemic in accelerating technology-driven change.

Braynin noted his company received thousands of orders for healthcare professionals at the start of Covid-19. It had an online platform in test mode prior to the pandemic, but the order numbers necessitated taking it out of test mode to meet demand.

Panelist Traci Fiatte, CEO of professional and commercial staffing at Randstad, noted parts of the business were set up for remote work prior to the pandemic, but other parts were not. Those other parts had to quickly adapt.

The “pandemic absolutely forced us to do things at a faster rate than expected,” Fiatte said.

She also spoke on the importance of making the experience positive for workers and client companies — especially given what can be a certain ambivalence about the industry from those outside it.

“We’re a grudge buy,” Fiatte said. If customers could find talent on their own without the staffing industry, they would; if talent could find jobs on their own, they would.

She also recommended thinking about which processes should be handled by technology and which should retain the human touch rather than just digitalizing current processes.

Tech alone may not be enough.

“It’s not about building a platform or software,” Braynin said. It won’t work if people don’t use it.

Fred Goff, CEO of Jobcase, a networking site for blue-collar workers, said one pandemic-driven change was the acceleration of inequality.

“We had a front-row seat to the real difficulties of the last year and a half,” Goff said.

Blue-collar workers couldn’t work from home and had to figure out childcare while schools were closed. And there was uncertainty about safety nets such as unemployment and eviction protection. On the positive side, he said, workers leaned more into using the latest technology.

Looking ahead, PRO Unlimited’s Akeroyd said we are at an inflection point now, and executives need to be able to stay current with the disparate technologies now being rolled out.

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