I believe there was an intermittent, but gradual, pendulum swing of power away from the people (workers) and into the hands of corporations over the last few decades. Among other things, we saw the waning influence of labor unions and the decline of defined benefit pensions as indicators that companies had started to reject the “womb-to-tomb” employment lifecycle. Then things took a drastic turn with The Great Recession. With more workers than jobs, companies began to act as if they were primarily in control of the trajectory of workers’ career options and employment status. And the rise of MSPs and VMS coincided with this shift away from a people-centric view of the workforce.

Especially since The Great Recession, companies have increasingly embraced the use of contingent labor and an extended workforce as part of their holistic business model, while third-party management (MSPs), internally managed programs (IMPs) and technology (VMS) have become critical components of this evolution. It seems the power to attract talent was in the management model and automation, not relationships, choice, freedom, culture and opportunity. Many workers are “temps” by necessity, not by choice; the systems put in place were often barriers to career fulfillment because they were built for companies instead of workers.

Until now.

The gig economy has made free agency a more attractive alternative to workers. It capitalizes on the “try before you buy” strategy of choosing your next employer, the desire to be a true independent contractor (1099), or the itch to do project-based work across multiple geographies (like travel or per diem nurses). It’s no longer taboo to decide you don’t want the “full-time” moniker. And people, if not all companies, are now seeing this as another, and often better, way to manage their career. And its growing acceptability and ancillary benefits – work-life balance, mobility, functional diversity, etc. – are creating a fascinating culture shift in the workplace.

So, I’m convinced the power is now moving away from programs and processes built for organizations and back to the very organisms (people) that make up today’s labor market.

Will that render MSPs and VMS technology obsolete? I don’t think so at all. But they will have to adapt and embrace a retro-reality that people are pivotal, even more pivotal than inanimate programs and platforms. Systems by themselves, if they are engaged in the talent acquisition and retention space, won’t continue to work unless they acknowledge and incorporate the reality that people, and the freedom of choice the new labor market has created, are increasingly in the driver’s seat, determining when, where and how they now work.

I ride with Uber quite often, so I will use it as an example.  Although not without its faults, to me, it has become something of an icon when we think about the worker-free agency and the gig economy. It, along with many similar ventures, has given both freedom and options to people who choose to shuttle other folks around in their personal vehicles in exchange for compensation. Compare this to the archaic and expensive taxi system: Who wants to dial for or hail a cab when you can simply tap your smartphone a few times? Nine out of 10 times, I’m choosing Uber or Lyft, because it’s just more convenient and cost-effective.

And taking Uber gives me an opportunity to introduce my perfunctory anecdotal survey: How do you like working for Uber? Here are some great answers – answers that show that power is returning to the people…again:

  • “I don’t really work for Uber. I work for myself.”
  • “I can pick up some extra dough when it’s convenient for me.”
  • “I’m between jobs, so this is giving me the chance to interview while I generate income.”
  • “If I’m not busy enough, I’m also signed up with Lyft and some staffing agencies.”
  • “When I visit my parents a few hours away and have some extra time, I can pick up some rides there.”

And remember that technology, processes and structure are still a huge part of this type of work. The difference is that, for the most part, these things allow for greater freedom rather than inhibiting the worker’s options and freedom.

So, what is your company doing to recognize that, in today’s labor market, we are experiencing a return of power to the people” …again? How are you adapting without abandoning the value that programs, processes and technology can bring?