The portfolio approach represents an unconventional yet practical solution to two really big issues: being able to switch workforce costs on and off easily and more flexibly, in line with business demand; and getting your hands on the right talent.
I’m not talking about freelance workers here. Although it has its place in the workforce, the freelance model has always been about plugging in spare capacity on an ad hoc basis, often at premium rates, and represents an unplanned and less than ideal approach.
By contrast, the portfolio worker more closely resembles a ‘proper’ employee – exemplified by their contractual arrangements as well as terms and conditions. The key distinction is that they are contracted to a portfolio of employers simultaneously and are guaranteed to work for all of them during any given period of time.
However, I’m not recommending plunging head first into building a business around portfolio workers. Step one is for employers to identify their own most important employees. I don’t mean just those with the most seniority, but the individuals with the most unique skills or those responsible for governance checks and balances – these are core roles which organisations tinker with at their peril.
Outside this critical core however, a portfolio workforce solution could work well.
Albeit the portfolio model, can only work if (and it’s a big if) a large enough number of organisations are prepared to operate in this fashion – the added bonus is that employees can build a broad portfolio. Without a broad acceptance of this model, every time an organisation ‘switches off’ a group of portfolio workers, those individuals would be heading straight to the dole queue, which would be politically unacceptable.
Unfavourable press coverage around zero based contracts in recent years has highlighted potential pitfalls. Further, while this approach could work well for employees in a buoyant job market, it may appeal less in harder times. Such discerning issues can be overcome. If the portfolio worker is to become commonplace in 10 years, the market for flexible employment conditions must mature.
Thankfully, as talent supply continues to tighten and skill demand grows, I expect more organisations to head down this route. After all, a similar combination of factors caused the rise of offshoring as a resourcing solution some years ago and now this is regarded as mainstream and operationally savvy by many employers.
This article represents the views of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG in the UK.