An employment law expert has echoed recent calls for HR Departments to harness the freelance talent on offer in the UK’s rapidly growing ‘gig economy’. Similar appeals were made by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and PwC.

Writing in HR Magazine, Head of Employment at Spencers Solicitors, Philip McCabe, explains the gig economy as follows: “At one time only musicians looked to get a ‘gig.’ The rest of us found ‘proper jobs’ that paid a fixed monthly salary with holidays and let us plan for the future with some legal rights.”

“Today more of us have left this traditional job model to try to make a living working for ourselves on one-off ‘gigs’ – as temporary workers, independent contractors or people selling their skills through websites. The ‘gig economy’ has firmly entered employment vocabulary, becoming a catch-all term for anything from Uber taxi drivers and Airbnb hosts to freelance professionals.”

The number of people choosing contracting and freelancing has risen steadily since the crash of 2008, and McCabe says that it is on course to overtake the number of people employed in the public sector in the near future.

Suggesting that Umbrella Company Employees and other contractors and freelancers constitute a new category of worker, McCabe warns that current employment law does not sit easily alongside their growing presence. These flexible professionals practise ‘portfolio working’, taking on different projects for different employers.

Most HR departments, McCabe notes, have not yet adjusted to this new category of working. Citing a recent study by PwC (The Future of Work), he highlights the fact that under a third of employers have a strategy in pace for capitalising on the expanding pool of gig and portfolio workers, many of whom possess highly sought-after skills. This is despite the fact that almost half of employers expect at least a fifth of their workforce to be engaged in this way by 2020.

McCabe urges HR professionals to begin focussing on how to use these flexible workers effectively, and he underlines managing quality as a key priority. Referring to a study from 2014 by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), he points to a failure to provide training to contingent workers who would be available to employers. The CIPD found that only half of the employers surveyed provided training to casual workers, and just a third offered them performance appraisals.

Matters are even worse for agency staff and for people designated as self-employed, fewer than half of whom were included in internal communications or were considered for any kind of recognition award.

If employers are to benefit from these flexible workers, recognising their importance appears to be a first step.

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