High-end independent talent offer a flexible source of the expert strategic thinking, hands-on execution, interim leadership, and cutting-edge, in-demand skills companies need to tackle their greatest opportunities and challenges.
Every year, Business Talent Group analyzes our proprietary data to reveal the most important independent talent trends that business leaders should know. What emerges from the data is a vivid picture of how leading companies, private equity firms, and nonprofit organizations rely on independent consultants, interim executives, subject matter experts, and project managers to fill critical skill, expertise, and leadership gaps.
This year's results are summarized in our 2023 High-End Independent Talent Report.
2023 Independent Talent Trends
The 2023 High-End Independent Talent Report offers insight into today’s market as companies continue to navigate uncertainty—with added economic pressure—and increasingly turn to on-demand talent for flexibility and optionality.
“As business leaders are challenged to do more with less, they are recognizing the full benefits offered by on-demand talent—in both interim leadership roles and project based work—to deliver the expertise needed to fill skill gaps and navigate uncertainty while remaining flexible with capacity and cost,” said Amelia Warren Tyagi, CEO of Business Talent Group. “The uncertainty that organizations are facing emphasizes the importance of effective leaders to drive critical transformations and position companies for resilience in a world of constant change.”
Key insights for 2023 include:
- Soaring demand for interim executives at all levels and functions with a 116% increase YOY and an especially acute need for interim leadership and skills in the office of the CFO
- Continuing need for business process projects—the #2 most in-demand project—and talent skilled in process optimization and transformation—the #4 most in-demand skill
- IT and tech transformations abound with spiking demand for talent skilled in tech and systems implementation
2022 Independent Talent Trends
In 2022, companies were fiercely competing to secure top talent for traditional, full-time employment—with US CEOs ranking labor shortages as the number one external threat to their businesses, and 58% of leaders reporting that closing skill gaps within their workforces had become a higher priority since the pandemic began.
“For business leaders to achieve their goals in this relentlessly uncertain environment, on-demand access to highly skilled independent talent is an essential piece of human capital infrastructure that companies must harness,” said Jody Greenstone Miller, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Business Talent Group. “As they struggle to bring on increasingly specialized and in-demand talent for traditional full-time roles, companies are recognizing that the breadth and depth of the independent talent market adds a new arrow to their quiver to resource against core priorities and fill critical gaps across industries and functions.”
Key insights for 2022 include:
- On-demand talent is on the CXO agenda with more than 70% of all requests coming from VPs and above, including 40% of on-demand project needs requested by C-level executives.
- Interim leadership continues to permeate the organization with the number of requests to fill leadership-level roles below the C-suite increasing by 189% YOY and overall requests for interim leadership leaping 137% YOY.
- There is consistent demand for strategic expertise and hands-on execution to drive growth strategies, market landscapes and research, project management, and marketing and sales initiatives across all industries and business functions
- There is growing interest in business processes and workforce planning as executives look to optimize, grow, and redefine the future of work.
Read the report for more exclusive findings.
2021 Independent Talent Trends
In 2021, companies were emerging from the unprecedented conditions of 2020, planning for a post-pandemic future, seeking to capture market share, and blazing paths to renewed growth. A few of the major themes that emerged in 2021 were:
- The use of independent talent increased at senior levels with nearly 69% of all requests from VPs and above, including 30% of independent talent needs from C-level executives.
- The use of interim leaders took an increasingly prominent role up and down the org chart, as shown by a 70% increase YOY in interim engagements below the C-suite. Overall, interim leadership comprised 8% of all project requests.
- Companies re-focusing on growth with 57% of projects falling into the broad bucket of strategy.
- They also sought to optimize the organization, with 35% of projects focused on organization, operations, and transformation needs.
- Remote-only project requests increased 335% YOY across all industries and business functions.
2020 Independent Talent Trends
In the 2020 report, marketing and sales projects topped the list of most in-demand projects—a trend that continued throughout the year with independent experts assisting on everything from highly specialized pharmaceutical product launches to initiatives aimed helping marketers understand rapidly changing customer preferences . Project management was the most-requested skill. We also saw:
- Rising demand for process-related projects as companies transform their operations to grapple with radical shifts in the business landscape
- Increased reliance on independent talent for advanced analytics and other digital skills difficult to source in the full-time market
- More requests for talent skilled in digital transformations and tech and systems implementations as companies accelerated long-planned efforts amid increased remote working and changing customer behavior
- An changing role for interim leaders—no longer confined to stopgap positions during executive searches—who now pilot initiatives, advise permanent execs, and address skills gaps in hard-to-hire areas from the C-suite to Director levels
In addition to the project and skill trends above, we also noted a more than 2x increase in usage of independent talent by HR leaders, CEOs, and business unit presidents year over year, a reflection of just how valuable embedded independent talent have become across the enterprise.
2019 Independent Talent Trends
In 2018, the greatest needs were for project leadership in highly specialized niches like supply chain, disruptive innovation, and market access. 2019 was no different, according to our analysis. Given the dismally low completion rate of most corporate projects, it suggests savvy companies have realized that freelance project management consultants can provide critical support in situations where resources are tight or teams are distracted by competing priorities.
BTG’s research is based on an analysis of 12 months of client needs, with the goal of understanding how these professionals are helping large companies get work done.
“In a tight labor market, companies turn to independent professionals for cutting-edge skills that often can’t be found anywhere else. We are thrilled to help executives understand the breadth of what these professionals can accomplish—and the many ways they can make a difference on mission-critical initiatives,” Jody Greenstone Miller, Business Talent Group’s CEO and co-founder, commented.
To view all of our annual reports on independent talent trends, visit our High-End Independent Talent Report content stream.