Female warehouse gig worker in front of boxes

Old Fashioned Strategies Won’t Work in Today’s Modern Labor Market

Rich Oakes | May 23, 2018

Several weeks ago, I was discussing the current labor market with a friend of mine who owns a small business in the Cincinnati area.  When discussing his organization’s current labor challenges, he used the word “Old Fashioned” in a sentence outlining a potential strategy forward.  I couldn’t help but laugh as we bantered back and forth throughout the discussion.

The stats are staggering.  There is nothing old fashioned about the modern labor market.  Monster.com, Carreerbuilder.com, McKinsey, Randstad, and many more have written and continue to write articles about the growing Gig Economy.  The American labor force is choosing independent work over traditional employee positions at increasing rates year-over-year.  A McKinsey report on the Gig Economy makes a very strong argument that the Industrial Revolution moved much of the workforce from self-employment to structured payroll jobs. Now the digital revolution may be creating a shift in the opposite direction.


Most of us know IKEA as one of the largest retailers who specializes in selling ready to assemble furniture.  Recently, IKEA purchased TaskRabbit, a marketplace that matches freelance labor with local demand.  It allows consumers to find immediate help with everyday tasks, including cleaning, moving, delivery and handyman work.

Long ago, IKEA recognized their “assembly” process as an opportunity for improving customer experience.  In November 2016, IKEA and TaskRabbit partnered on a pilot program to make TaskRabbit available to IKEA customers in London for furniture assembly.  That pilot was successful enough to drive the acquisition of TaskRabbit by IKEA. It is clear from this decision that IKEA understands today’s labor market.

I wish I could have overheard the discussions within IKEA when key managers and executives were discussing how to address this customer experience “assembly issue.” I’m confident that there was the traditional “old fashioned” personnel approach presented that would have required IKEA to add more permanent headcount, build up assembly efforts by adding employees, creation of a new internal department, more infrastructure, more everything.  The “if we just throw more full-time employees at it, we can fix it” approach.

Instead, in that room, there was a different approach that was more in touch with today’s modern workforce. Someone at IKEA recognized that the recruiting landscape right now is very difficult.  Most companies have current openings unfilled because there is a war for talent taking place.  IKEA also understood that there are approximately 55 million Americans working in the gig economy with little interest in PT or FT employment.  They had clearly read recent publications outlining the trend that 39% of traditional American workers say they are likely to consider shifting to freelance work within the next 2 to 3 years.  They also recognized that one of the biggest activities TaskRabbit freelancers completed day in and day out, was assembling IKEA furniture.

While most talent acquisition strategies focus on adding more FT & PT employees, IKEA took another path. They saved millions in additional headcount costs and embraced an organization which is filled with freelancers who crave flexibility and control.  From a labor perspective, everyone wins.

LinkedIn and The Adecco Group just released a study titled “Flexible Working, A career and lifestyle pathway.”  In short, the study conveyed four key messages:

  1. The majority of those involved in flexible work do so through active choice to meet current personal needs or career ambitions.
  2. Young adults (aged 18-26) have a very positive view of independent work and independent workers, and a majority aspire to such employment.
  3. A rapidly growing new class of independent professionals are creating financially and professionally rewarding careers with a more desirable work/life balance.
  4. Flexible work is a positive development for workers, companies, and society. However, it presents challenges that will require everyone to update their thinking formed in a world where permanent employment predominated.

This same study recommends that businesses hire independent workers when they have staffing gaps, as well as encourages businesses to build a network of independent workers to draw from when unexpected labor needs arise.

Small businesses across the country are taking notice.  SCORE, the nation’s largest network of volunteer expert business mentors, just released data in December ’17 that shows small business owners reported a 37% increase in hiring gig/independent workers over the past six months (more than any other type of worker).  Specialized expertise and seasonal needs were stated as the top reasons.

Wayne Gretzky said, “skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” For all of us responsible for our organization’s staffing strategies, we need to skate towards the modern labor market.  The trends are real.  The American labor force is changing.  Will we continue to follow the old- fashioned path of trying to staff our organizations with full or part-time employee based hires and complain month-over-month about positions that continue to be unfilled?  Or like IKEA, will we embrace a modern approach that is in alignment with where the current labor force is evolving, finding the right mix of employees and independent labor to fuel the growth of our organizations?

Old fashioned won’t cut it anymore – The labor force is changing, and like IKEA, we need to be ready.

Back to Blog