The trend of increasing business use of contingent labor has been in evidence over the past 20 years and, and as the use of contingent workforce has grown, larger enterprises have progressed in establishing business functions and practices to control cost and mitigate risk. That said, at this time, there are indications of reaching an inflection point where the use of contingent workforce will accelerate and expand and new ways of engaging some forms of contingent workforce are starting to emerge.

In addition to the evolution of the business motives for and the different ways of increasingly engaging global workforce, another very relevant and important shift has been taking place– that is the increasing importance of “critical talent” to businesses.

In some ways this has been a very long-term shift that has been occurring as the economy shifts from a fundamental reliance on physical labor performed by large numbers of unskilled workers to a preponderant dependence on machines, technology, and more-highly-skilled, knowledge workers.

In the industrialized world of the 20th century, the economy could function with relatively few high-skilled, knowledge workers, but the emerging “knowledge-based economies” of the 21st century are defined by the critical roles of technology and high-skilled, knowledge workers. Now even economies that were relatively late in becoming massively industrialized are highly focused on making unprecedented investments in technology infrastructure and education to participate as equal partners in the global “knowledge-based” economy.

“Critical talent” refers to the more highly-skilled, frequently specialized (even expert) workers that play a high-impact role in the success of a business initiative or on-going operations. Without the application of these workers’ knowledge-based skills, a business initiative or operation would be adversely impacted to a very significant degree (for example, think of a branch without a key general manager, a software development team without a product architect or the right programmers, an oil drilling rig without the necessary engineers, etc.). The more severe the adverse impact of not having such a worker engaged and the more difficult it is to engage a replacement worker, the greater the degree of “criticality.”

To some extent, almost any highly-skilled knowledge worker is “critical talent,” especially if that talent is hard to locate and engage (such as in situations, as discussed above, where such talent is scarce in the proximately accessible labor markets). Some 21st century businesses (for example, software companies like Google or design firms like IDEO, etc.) are disproportionately comprised of “critical talent.” But even firms that are not (like manufacturing businesses or resource extraction companies, etc.) are still disproportionately dependent on their “critical talent” for their business success (i.e., eliminate some factory workers in one country and the business will continue unaffected—eliminate several key managers and engineers in that country, and problems arise).

In examining 21st century business emerging patterns of engagement of a “World-Wide Workforce,” it can now be seen why it is important to give heightened consideration to this extremely important, specific segment of “critical talent.” Businesses are now disproportionately dependent on “critical talent” for their success—not only when they are following opportunities across the globe, but also in the face of domestic labor market talent and skill shortages.

Moreover, “critical talent” also poses different and noteworthy challenges for businesses engaging a global workforce and the processes used in doing so. “Critical talent” workers are not commodity workers—they are professional specialists who know the value of their own human capital and will expect to be engaged adequately within the business and legal (and often cultural and linguistic) context of their country location. In many cases, they will value their own professional independence, and they are also increasingly likely to be technology savvy (having all the expectations that come with living in highly technologized, online world), but also perhaps expect to be engaged through “high-touch” processes. In short, special forms of engagement may be needed for “critical talent”.

This is an excerpt from the recently launched CXC Global Whitepaper “Engaging “The Worldwide Workforce” In The 21st Century.

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