Crowd funding – seeking finance from multiple sources online – is already one way for startup businesses to tap a network and raise the money they need. But in future, "crowd labour" could be the key to employment.
Belinda Johnson, owner of WorkLab, an employment research organization and consultancy, says there will always be a recruitment industry but how it functions will be turned on its head, as the way that people search for jobs, and employers hunt for talent, changes.
"The recruitment process will be about productivity, so people will be recruited based on outcomes," she says.
"It will be about reputation and recommendation. A lot of the information on our CVs will become irrelevant – school history and gaps in employment, etc. CVs will be based on the outcomes achieved in previous roles. It will be about reputation for delivery: Can you deliver in a certain time and at what cost?"
The economic downturn has spurred a rapid increase in the number of those working on contracts, and Ms. Johnson says such contingent workers could represent up to 50 per cent of all employees by 2020. As more people are employed on short-term contracts, she says, it is increasingly the case that "your last assignment is your reference."
One example of how individuals might be finding jobs in future is oDesk Corp., an online work exchange. It provides a digital platform for those looking for specific work and those wanting to hire people. "It allows hirers to post tasks into the ether. People register, put up their credentials and oDesk adds a margin," Ms. Johnson continues.
As a result of such websites, niche communities are emerging that are far more tightly defined than those on social media sites such as LinkedIn. "We are seeing communities within communities, where you find kindred spirits," Ms. Johnson says.
People within these specialist communities will have very specific skills – data programmers, for example – and will rate each other. "These people are helping each other build their reputations, which is tremendously powerful."
As these valuable talent pools build, there are implications for employers, which are already evident, even at a senior level. Andrew Hill, the Financial Times' management editor, recently wrote about how the so-called "crowd and cloud" might enable employers to bypass executive headhunters.
Ms. Johnson also believes the mainstream methods of finding talent are limited: "Companies are too prescriptive and fixed in how they find people and need to be more open in order to capture the people they want. There are more and more hurdles for candidates to get through, with various stages to the job application process – interviews and psychometric tests. The more organizations do this, the more jaded candidates will become."
She says companies and agencies often fail to understand that the candidate is a customer: "Many do not respond to unsuccessful applications, which is not acceptable.
"For retail and utility companies, the candidates are, in fact, customers, so the way they are treated directly affects the customer base. Candidates will remember a shoddy experience."
As new methods evolve, job candidates will be able to choose which process they follow: being referred by colleagues and peers, or traditional recruitment. Ms. Johnson says those who are most sought after will choose the referral route, forcing companies to tap into these specialist communities to hunt for talent – a vast and complex task.
Recruiters will have to scour the online world to find where specific people "hang out" and then hold a conversation with them. But they cannot enter those discussions as general recruiters: A headhunter will have to know almost as much about a specialty as the people they seek from that skill set, whether it be within research and development, engineering, or financial services, for example.
"This ability to 'source' will itself become highly prized and finding people in this way will become a new industry," Ms. Johnson says.
The next challenge for employers will be to coax people on board once they have found them. This will require "engagement" and employees will have to be engaged in different ways.
She says this, in turn, affects corporate identity. Companies tend to have no real personality: the "face" of an organization is its generic logo, or branding, not a person. This raises questions as to how it can cope with rising individualism. For example, someone considering working for BP will care most about what it is like working in a specific role, in a particular department, as opposed to just "working at BP" generally.
Once companies have found the people they want, there will be a "need to keep them compliant and monitor their productivity," Ms. Johnson adds. "This again is a skilled and complex process, and is a specialism in itself."
Job seekers and those searching for talent are together slowly adapting to these changes, she argues: "While the principle of the sourcing of crowd knowledge has a long history, the commercialization of crowd labour is still in its relative infancy. It is most developed within fields that naturally lend themselves to a defined task – programming, design, content writing."
She acknowledges it will be some time before a substantial shift takes place, but predicts that workers will eventually earn more money doing things that really interest them.