Shades of Gray, Part 4:The Gig Economy

This article is reprinted with permission from MaineBiz. Derek Rice, author. Fourth of four parts.

Despite, or perhaps because of, these types of challenges employers are facing, the work force seems to be evolving in a way that could benefit older workers.

Rick Dacri of human resources consulting firm Dacri & Associates in Kennebunkport says many organizations are looking more at a freelance-style work force. Rather than hire employees full time and incur the cost of benefits, office space and other things, they are looking to hire people on a project-by-project basis.

“Work forces are always evolving, especially during a recession, but what’s different this time is that there’s a greater emphasis on a contingent, ‘just-in-time’ work force,” he says.

Of course, this model is nothing new. It’s been used for years in the IT arena, in which workers typically come in to a company to perform a specific task (such as a server installation), then leave and return only on an as-needed basis. What is new, however, is the broadening range of tasks that just-in-time workers are being hired for.

 “We’re seeing the age of the specialty worker expanding,” Dacri says. “Companies are running leaner, so they want to focus on their core business and bring in people when they’re needed.”

This growing trend isn’t unique to Maine. Across the country the “gig economy” (a term coined by public relations consultant and blogger Ann Brenoff) is flourishing. In fact, the Department of Labor anticipates that the number of people engaged in part-time work in their chosen field who are being paid on a project basis will grow 83% from 2008 to 2018.

On its face, this model seems to benefit employers the most, as they save money on costs associated with full-time employees. But Dacri says it could also work well for Maine’s aging population. Many retired workers have the types of specialized skills companies may need, but who don’t want to work on a full-time basis.

Those “smart, business-savvy” people Dave Tomm, who operates Seasoned Workforce, works with aren’t looking to be unemployed, and would prefer to work to their full potential. Under project-based employment, they could conceivably find themselves on the training side of the equation, rather than the trainee side. For example, they could be brought in to complete a specific project that requires consulting with the company or even providing training and mentoring to younger workers.

“This could be a great opportunity for older workers to share their expertise while earning an income that will help them make ends meet,” Dacri says. “It also allows those older workers to work less than a full week, if that’s what they want.”

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