Making Sense of an Agile Workforce

One of my tasks as a Career Coach is to keep current so I can pass on effective strategies and tools to support my clients as they navigate a changing workforce. Being well versed in evolving workforce terminology is one way that I help my clients adapt to the changing world of work. Here’s a crash course!

Let's start with the term agile workforce.  

An agile workforce allows employers to be flexible and responsive in a globally competitive market or in uncertain economic climates. It also gives employers the opportunity to respond to the next generation of tech savvy workers who value flexibility and lifestyle driven work lives. An agile workforce means employers will hire less full-time, permanent employees and increase their talent pool of contingent workers who are contractors, consultants, freelancers or remote workers. An agile workforce is growing globally and a recent Randstad report estimated that 40% of our workforce in Canada will be contingent by 2025.

Let's talk contingent.

A contingency workforce is nothing new. Many employers have carried a contingent workforce with contractors, consultants, freelancers, seasonal and casual on-demand staff as part of their talent pool for a million years (okay not a million). However, it's estimated that 30% of the Canadian workforce is already made up of non-traditional workers, but this number is expected to rise, and depending on the industry, the percent of contingency workers may vary across employers and industries. Our Southern neighbours, the U.S.,  have estimated that in 2017 contingent workers made up 45% of the American workforce. The contingency workforce can also be called the "independent workforce" or "agile workforce".

Next, let's look at the contingent worker.

A highly skilled contingent worker often specializes in a specific skill set or knowledge base allowing employers to tap into skills that are not present in their core workforce. Because they are not on payroll, they are expected to take care of their taxes, benefits and pension. This can have both advantages and disadvantages to the worker depending on their knowledge base in money management and their ability to network, build relationships with employers, and have an entrepreneurial mindset. The contingent worker can also be called an independent worker, freelancer or gig worker.

What about the gig economy? Where does it fit in?

The gig economy is basically an economy of trading goods and services that supports temporary work as opposed to permanent work. It's kind of like selling lemonade on the side of the road in your neighbourhood on a hot Saturday afternoon. As long as the weather remains hot and nobody goes to the beach, the demand will continue.  However, when the forecast is for rain, your lemonade stand gets rained out and in two months, when the snow comes, everyone has moved on to hot chocolate. So you pack up your lemons and go to Lowes to pick up a snow shovel. The temporary demand in a gig economy supports an agile and accommodating contingency labour pool. 

Because of technology access and a globally talented workforce, temporary work supplied by a global talent pool is now a global conversation. Subsequently, the gig economy can also be referred to as a global "freelancer economy" with employers now having access to freelance workers through talent hubs such as Fiverr,, HireMyMom and Upwork to name a few. The global gig economy and freelancing hubs that connect employers with talent allow freelancers to work from home tapping into a local, national or a global market of employers. 

Which brings me to remote workers...

What is a remote worker exactly? A remote worker could be working from the top of Mt. Everest (depending on the Wifi connection) or could be minutes from the office working from home.  In the past, remote work (aka telecommuting) was characterized by the workers lack of physical presence in the workplace such as the full-time regional director of sales who spent their working days living out of their car and hotel rooms. Today, because of access to technology, remote workers can move to Mexico and save on living costs, running freelance businesses from the beach. The shift to a remote workforce is a trend that may keep on trending. From an employers perspective, it can save significant costs in housing workers and from the workers perspective, it saves the cost and hassle of a daily commute. You also don't need a work wardrobe. Just saying...

Finally, what is a portfolio careerist?

This is by far my favourite topic because I am an entrepreneurial portfolio careerist and I feature portfolio careerists on my blog (Yes, that was a shameless plug for my blog). We are the folks that income stream by combining full-time, part-time, freelance, contract, consulting, seasonal, project based or entrepreneurial ventures. (Typically not all of the above simultaneously but SOME of the above simultaneously). We are the snowflakes of the work world. No two are alike. 

Portfolio careerists are a growing trend in a global economy that is valuing an agile workforce. We tend to be more flexible, able to adapt and pivot because we have learned not to put all our eggs in one basket. The work style of the portfolio careerist is nothing new. People have been income streaming for centuries. The farmer who worked off the farm, sold cattle, eggs and rented out a room in their home is nothing new. However, the term portfolio careerist is a relatively new term in North America.  Prior to the last two years, we have been flying under the title of multi-tracker, slash careerist and, of course the bad word of the 1950s, wait for it...MOONLIGHTER. Remember when you couldn't have that night time gig singing in seedy bars because it would look bad for your daytime employer? Well, those days are over. 

Today, it's not so unusual or deemed bad for our reputation to have that second or third stream of income in addition to another job. Portfolio careerist focus on making money from multiple sources to create a type of lifestyle that they would prefer or because they have multiple interests, or they want to use a multitude of skills or they just don't know what they want to do when they grow up! Portfolio careerists also like to have a diversified portfolio of income. 

Now that the fog has cleared and you have a better understanding of the agile workforce. Will it impact you?