Should employers be actively embracing people with squiggly careers? The Recruitment and Employment Confederation and KPMG’s most recent UK Report on Jobs, found that permanent hires had fallen again.

Across the UK, companies are taking on fewer permanent employees.

Increasing reluctance to take on permanent staff appears to be because of the current volatile global economic landscape, which doesn’t look like its changing any time soon.

Although demand for temporary hires also fell this February, it has mostly risen on a monthly basis and outperformed permanent placements across 2023, as employers look to grow their agility to give them an edge in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

How is the UK populace responding to what looks like an increasing demand for temporary workers? Will people think more seriously about embracing a ‘squiggly career’?

The phrase ‘squiggly career’ is used to describe a career path that includes multiple jobs across sectors, spanning permanent and temporary employment. It was first coined by Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis in their book of the same name back in 2020.

Research would suggest that the UK workforce is not quite ready to go all out squiggly. Recent figures reveal that the estimated number of temporary workers fell to 1.49 million by the end of 2023 compared with almost 1.7 million a year earlier.

For supply to meet the demand for temporary staff – on which the future of UK business could depend –  it’s up to employers to present the benefits. What’s more, the government must create a more level playing field, closing the regulatory gaps that separate permanent and temporary employment.

Why go squiggly?

So how can employers encourage the UK workforce to be more squiggly? First, they can point out the following benefits. Handled in the right way, embracing a non-linear squiggly career path can drive greater adaptability, which fosters innovation, creativity and resilience. These are key traits that will help individuals thrive amid the uncertainty and disruption that defines today’s economic landscape.

By no longer being confined to rigid job descriptions or predetermined career paths, people are more likely to embrace change as a constant companion, seizing opportunities for growth, learning and exploration across various roles, industries and locations.

Embracing the ethos of squiggly careers entails a shift in mindset – from linear thinking to nonlinear exploration, from job security to skill agility, from passive compliance to proactive self-determination. By embracing temporary work as a viable and empowering career option, individuals in the UK can unlock new opportunities, expand their horizons, and chart their own course in an ever-changing landscape.

Contingent strategy

Second, employers should build contingent work into their company’s HR strategy. This involves examining business goals and the market to assess when more or fewer resources will be needed and by how much the workforce should grow to capitalise on spikes in demand and optimise agility. Crucial here is identifying not just the additional numbers needed but also the extra skills.

Skills mapping enables the right temporary staff to be specified and booked in advance. Those workers can be offered permanent work if they perform well, which creates more stability for the best people while also commanding loyalty.

Skills sharing

Another way to add value to temporary staff is to introduce skills sharing. Formulating a learning and development programme can help both the employer and contractor.

Advance preparation is key. Ensuring internal systems are set up correctly and the necessary technology resources and training is in place enables temporary workers to hit the ground running. This means that employers get the best value while contractors experience a professional environment that clearly values their service and gives them the opportunity to pick up new skills they can use elsewhere.

Smart businesses can also use contractors to grow their permanent skills base by incorporating skills sharing into the temporary agreement. A member of staff could be assigned to shadow the contractor. to pick up knowledge that can be spread across the company. For example. A major benefit of this approach is that permanent staff directly benefit from the contingent workforce, which can create a more welcoming environment for temporary staff.

Strategies like these can help the temporary UK workforce grow and thrive, while enabling businesses to benefit from the strategic advantage that contractors bring to a competitive marketplace – driving flexibility, scalability and specialised expertise without the long-term commitment or overhead costs associated with permanent hires.

By Chris Grimes, sales director at Matrix

Originally published HR Magazine | April 2024

Photo by Jack B on Unsplash