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Senior vice-president and chief human-resources officer, Purolator Inc.

The very nature of work is changing, as temporary and non-traditional project-focused jobs – also known as the gig economy – continue to increase. And with this change, the trend of gig-based employees will also continue to grow, whether employers choose to participate or not.

A large part of the gig economy’s growth can be attributed to the growing number of workers in their 20s and 30s exploring opportunities in this employment model. This is not a negative trend: Young professionals increasingly express a preference for temporary or short-term jobs for the flexibility and autonomy they provide.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, upward of 70 per cent of workers employed in the gig economy are there by choice, either as casual earners or so-called “free agents.” But in order for everyone to benefit from the gig-economy model, both companies and employees must be pro-active in creating win-win opportunities.

Employers, for their part, have much to gain from hiring short-term, engaged employees with specialized expertise. The independent work force is diverse, encompassing widely varied experience, skill sets and education. When leading teams, I find employees are most engaged when they have the flexibility to shape their lives and careers the way they choose.

Despite the growing appeal of temporary employment models, we still face misconceptions about the gig economy. For some millennials, working in the gig economy can sound like an act of desperation. They’re skeptical of companies that hire temporary workers, assuming they are looking for cheap labour and provide no benefits. Meanwhile, some companies still believe the only way to fill a talent gap is with a full-time employee or an expensive project consultant.

The truth is that many contract or temporary jobs provide individuals with challenging, competitively paid roles that are highly sought after. These can include capital projects, IT projects, home-based assignments or transportation opportunities.

While it is true that comparably fewer of these roles have traditional health or retirement benefits, they are often paid at higher wages than the same work in a permanent role. This can be attractive, particularly for millennials, who increasingly want more control and choice over investments, and tend to be lower users of traditional health benefits. As a human-resources professional, I am increasingly seeing young workers requesting to waive benefit plans in favor of monetary compensation they can invest or save as they desire.

While the desires of millennials may be fuelling the gig economy, older workers are also increasingly requesting non-traditional work arrangements. Instead of full retirement, we see many older workers requesting seasonal, part-time or casual employment opportunities. For Purolator, this is a largely untapped pool of experienced, skilled and reliable workers – truly a win-win opportunity.

Given the changing nature of work, both workers and employers have an obligation to position themselves for success in the emerging gig economy.

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