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Column: How the gig economy can fit your business

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Common among all leaders is the desire to hire the best talent — individuals who can make an incredible difference within our organizations. In fact, CEOs report that discovering great talent, maintaining, developing and retaining high-performing employees is their No. 1 priority.

How does today’s CEO appeal to the modern worker as well as recruit the ideal candidate for the job?

“For a startup, a bad hire can be devastating, so the gig economy is our go-to strategy for finding the best people,” said Peter Sobotta, co-founder and CEO of @returnlogic. “The most successful way to court talent is to offer small, contracted projects that deliver an immediate ROI to the company and determine if the individual is a good recruit. The gig economy allows us to mitigate financial risk and find A-players without risk to our reputation.”

This rapidly growing economic sector called the gig economy is increasingly important to the job market and executives.

So what’s a gig? A gig describes a single project or task for which a worker is hired to work on demand. As Sobotta pointed out, the opportunity to hire individuals or freelancers for project-specific tasks is valuable for today’s leaders, and it’s a trend worth noting. Today, one in three Americans is a freelancer, with SmallBizTrends.com reporting that nearly 54 million Americans participated in some form of independent work in 2015 — that’s more than 33 percent of the U.S. workforce. And according to the Intuit 2020 report led by Emergent Research, by 2020, 40 percent of America’s workforce will be independent contractors.

A number of factors are driving the rise in short-term jobs. In the digital age, the workforce is increasingly mobile and work can be done from anywhere. Freelancers can select among temporary jobs and projects around the world, while employers can select the best individuals for specific projects from a larger pool than that available in any given area. Arts and design, computer information systems, construction, media and communications, transportation, and material moving are merely a handful of fields ideally suited to gig work.

Today’s talent — from millennials to retirees — craves independence and flexibility. A recent Bentley University survey reflects the shift in career goals from climbing the corporate ladder to entrepreneurship, with 67 percent of respondents expressing interest in starting their own business. Although the gig economy spans all age groups, millennials make up the largest portion. More than one-third of millennials are independent workers. In 2015, millennials became the largest demographic age group in the workforce and 32 percent of them believe they will be working flexible hours in the future.

“My personal goals are better met by working from home on a contract basis. The flexibility and earnings potential offered in the gig economy appeals to me,” says Janessa Porter, a 31-year old virtual administrative assistant.

Online freelance marketplaces like Upwork, Fiverr, and Thumbtack are connecting organizations and individuals with specialized skills to perform short-term, critical projects. In 2014, these sites helped independent workers generate more than $1.1 trillion dollars in total revenue in the U.S. alone. It’s a way to find, aggregate and rate individuals, allowing you to select the best candidate and evaluate their work. For instance, a startup CEO needed a brand identity before his investor pitch, typically a $10,000 line item. On Upwork, he found a graphic designer to create a visual brand identity for under $1,000. The graphic designer was paid, enhanced his portfolio, and the company received a critical service without employee overhead. Embracing this shift is a win for everyone’s bottom line.

“In the construction industry, whether it’s flexible work schedules or specialized services, bottom-line results driven by efficiency and productivity are outcomes of the gig economy,” says Jessica Meyers, CEO of The JEM Group. “Executives like me can capture creativity and innovation from a wealth of talent who want to work, but work differently.”

John Dame is a Harrisburg-based business strategist, CEO coach, author and founder of the Evolution Conference series.

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