Hey, can you “gig” it?
You’d better, because more and more workers in Canada are making a living doing independent consulting or temporary work as part of the growing gig economy.
The temporary employment industry is nothing new. During tough economic times, such as the tech bust of 2001 and the global financial crisis of 2008, hiring project-based workers became a way for companies to lower their overhead and maintain hiring flexibility, says Sari Cantor, a partner at staffing and recruiting agency Recruiting in Motion Ottawa.
At the same time, the contractor was able to keep working, as well as earn more money than before, she adds. Contractors typically charge more, pay less in taxes and can deduct their expenses.
Canada’s gig economy has been re-energized by the pandemic. It now represents more than one in 10 Canadian adults, with more than one in three Canadian businesses employing gig workers, according to Payments Canada in a report it released in 2021.
“Our workforce has changed,” says Cantor. “Many companies are coming out of COVID with new projects, new initiatives, new programs that are driving their business and don’t see what they’re working on necessarily as a long-term thing.”
Because Canada’s unemployment rate is so low, there’s always work available for freelance workers, she adds. “They can command good dollars because the supply and demand for talent has really shifted.
“In my 25 years of recruiting in Ottawa, I have never seen a labour market like this,” she says. “As long as the unemployment rate stays really low, it’s a great market for gig employees and job-seekers right now.”
Driving the trend, in part, is workers’ desire for more work-life balance and flexibility, Cantor continues. “Post-COVID, our workforce has changed, people don’t feel tied. The days of being in a career forever are over.”
Julie Lavergne worked for 16 years at Canadian Bank Note Company, most recently as vice-president of organizational development, before deciding to step away from her full-time permanent job this past April to go out on her own.
“I wanted to be able to exercise my creativity more; I wanted to have a bit more flexibility — not just with my time, but also doing different types of work,” says Lavergne, who sees her future career as working collaboratively with people whose values align with her own.
Lavergne is taking some time off before she starts later this spring as an independent contractor.
“There are a lot of different things in the pipeline,” she says of her opportunities to work in career coaching, leadership training and organizational development.
Contract work allows people to work at times and places that are most convenient to them.
“There’s flexibility, accountability and self-ownership, but there’s always a trade-off,” says Cantor. “From an employee perspective, it’s the stability, it’s the security, it’s the benefits, it’s the financial compensation over a long period of time that becomes the draw.”
Yet, some permanent full-time employees change companies as often as temporary workers, she notes.
“If the average lifespan of somebody in a career job right now is one to two years, how is that any different than a consultant on a long-term contract?”
It’s important for the culture of a company to explain to employees why they’re bringing in new workers, so that existing employees don’t feel threatened by the temporary hires, says Cantor.
“Having clearly defined roles as to what the expectations are and why they’re bringing in this person will help diminish some of the strife that may exist when people feel uncertain.”
Gig workers remain an important part of the workforce and should be part of any creative hiring strategy, Cantor believes.
“My message to HR people is to be as flexible and agile as possible to get access to the best talent possible — and not just the most available talent or the best candidate in your face right now or the best person who will go to your office five days a week.”
Never miss a story. Get OBJ's daily update in your inbox every Monday to Friday. Click here to subscribe.
Read the full issue of the OBJ summer news magazine here.