The 2023 Talent Strategy: Skills Take Center Stage

January 3, 2023 Rachel Halversen

Business leaders have a lot on their minds right now. Facing unfilled positions, under-resourced priorities, over-burdened workers, and a backlog of projects, they are increasingly seeing a chasm between the skills they have and the skills they need to move forward in this tenuous environment. Because of the current climate, those that tap into the independent workforce solidify their competitive advantage by quickly and efficiently procuring the skills and expertise they need.

Rapid growth and rising satisfaction

The size of independent workforce grew significantly over the past year, according to MBO Partners’ “2022 State of Independence” report, as well as their satisfaction, earnings, and overall success. With more and more professionals choosing to pivot to project-based independent work and finding that it is viable as a full-time endeavor—no longer relegated to simply a “side hustle.” —it’s clear that the segment is booming.

MBO found that there have never been more people working independently, with 64.6 million independent workers in 2022, up 26% over 2021. While that number includes those who are part-time or “occasional” independents, the research shows that full-time independents in particular grew 59%, from 13.6 million in 2020 to 21.6 million in 2022 and what’s more, nearly 20% of independents are high earning—meaning they make more than $100,000 annually. It’s clear that top talent are flocking to the independent market, and business leaders would do well to consider how to make the best use of them to address their biggest pain points and opportunities. 

Leading corporations have received the message and are ready to hit the ground running with these independent workers. In fact, two-thirds of companies say they plan to substantially increase their utilization of independents within the next 18 months.

According to the report, “The Great Realization is a dual-sided trend. Enterprises now recognize independents as an imperative part of their strategic growth agenda and a competitive workforce edge, and independents see greater benefits than ever before in having the control to do the work they love, the way they want.” That echoes findings from Business Talent Group’s 2022 Talent Lens survey of high-end independent talent, who reported that their top reasons to go and stay independent include control, flexibility, and variety.

A workforce-wide shift toward skills-based organizations

Organizations are trying to combat widespread burnout—but that goal is often at odds with the need to do more with less in a time of labor shortages and market-influenced hiring freezes. Those competing priorities aren’t likely to dissipate any time soon, with 73% of executives reporting that they expect talent shortages to continue over the next three years, according to Deloitte. In response, 70% of surveyed business leaders say they’re getting creative about sourcing for skills. Independent, on-demand talent—a fast, flexible, and cost-effective source of in-demand skills and experience—may just be the solution such leaders are seeking.

Deloitte argues that skills are overtaking traditional jobs as the fundamental building block of work. Many organizations are applying skills-based models to meet the demand for agility, agency, and equity. Now more than ever, organizations are moving toward a whole new operating model for work and the workforce that places skills, more than jobs, at the center. This new model can help organizations focus their attention on the outputs and skills needed to accomplish their top priorities.

Among other benefits, organizations that adopt a skills-based approach have shown significant gains in their ability to operate with efficiency, boost resilience, and innovate. For instance, skills-based organizations are:

  • 49% more likely to improve processes to maximize efficiency
  • 57% more likely to anticipate change and respond effectively and efficiently
  • 52% more likely to innovate

This emphasis on skills may be exactly what’s needed in this era of accelerating, often unpredictable change. And business leaders agree—with 85% of executives saying that organizations should create more agile ways of organizing work to swiftly adapt to market changes.

Companies increase their competitive advantage by utilizing on-demand talent

In another recent report, 60% of buyers of consulting services described their organizations as being very short-staffed, with 68% citing capacity as the number one reason for using outside consulting help—as opposed to 27% indicating the need for increased capabilities. Source Global attributes capacity shortages as a major reason why demand for external help, stating that “workloads [on internal teams] and the pace of activity remain problematically high, with staff even more exhausted and stressed.” Furthermore, recruitment remains difficult despite the slowing pace of employee resignation, increasing the need for external support.

The data shows that the independent workforce is increasingly in demand

Other recent research confirms that highly skilled independent professionals are quickly becoming an essential and ubiquitous source of skills and capacity. MBO found that 67% of HR managers expect their use of contingent labor to increase substantially over the next 18 months to meet temporary workload needs, increase productivity, get tasks done more quickly, and access specialized skills and hard-to-hire talent. Furthermore, Upwork revealed that nearly 60% of hiring managers who engage independent talent say they plan to increasingly rely on freelancers over the next six months (58%) and over the next two years (66%). Finally, Mercer discovered that 60% of executives expect that gig workers will substantially replace full-time employees at their company in the next three years, showing yet again that the fluid workforce is here to stay.

Fill skill and leadership gaps with top talent from Business Talent Group

On-demand talent is proving to be a key pillar of a holistic talent strategy for forward-thinking businesses. On a recent investor call, Krishnan Rajagopalen, president and CEO of Heidrick & Struggles, noted “We believe on-demand talent will continue to grow in relevance and demand, particularly as the labor markets are so very tight, and companies are operating in an environment where variable versus fixed costs are a priority. … Clients in need of executive search also often have near-term capacity challenges that can be solved by interim or project-based on-demand talent.”

BTG’s clients have likewise discovered the possibilities for resourcing better, faster, and more flexibly. We can confidently report that we are trusted by more than 50% of the F100 with 91% of clients exploring a new project need within 12 months. Our clients not only recognize the value of skills, but they have personally experienced how fast, easy, and cost effective it can be to utilize high-end independent talent.

From broad industry knowledge to niche expertise, our talent network has what you need to keep moving and improving amidst uncertainty. There’s no reason to put off your priorities, stretch your capacity, or extend your workday any longer. Harness the skills and experience of on-demand talent to tackle your most pressing projects today.


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