How Manufacturers can Tap into the Gig Economy

Manufacturers can find skilled talent by offering employees the flexibility found in the on-demand economy.

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More skilled workers are entering the “gig economy,” and manufacturers may be able to alleviate some of their workforce shortages by taking a page from companies like Uber and Upwork.

A recent study by the Brookings Institution found that the gig economy is growing faster than traditional payroll employment, and Intuit reported that 40% of American workers will be independent contractors by the year 2020. Yet beyond clerical assistance at Upwork, Uber drivers, and pay-per-task workers, a large number of professionals are joining the gig economy as well. This includes workers from lawyers and accountants to engineers and highly skilled mechanics and machinists.

MS Companies, which has 600 industrial clients, including 20 Fortune 500 companies, leverages the gig economy for manufacturers. CEO Pete Butler said the company has 3,500 to 5,000 workers in the field everyday with a talent pool of nearly 300,000 workers to pull from. MS Companies uses a proprietary workforce analysis platform that looks for inefficiencies and workforce gaps and identifies employee candidates likely to excel at customer worksites. With that information, MS Companies then can place the correct employees at the correct jobs and offer real-time visibility into analytics so customers can track the performance of the on-demand workforce.

Butler has seen success with the concept and said manufacturers can leverage these highly-skilled gig workers to supplement their critical workforce needs with shifts on demand. “We’re seeing [that] more highly skilled workers are seeking project work as opposed to traditional means of employment…this includes skilled workers such as automation programmers and engineers, who can come in and help a company on a short-term basis,” said Butler.


MS Company’s latest recruiting technology allows customers to identify ideal workers based on location, skill set, experience and reviews. Butler said they can contact potential workers “in a matter of minutes” through multiple channels, then use their employee engagement app to connect with the worker and provide customized training materials to improve engagement and ensure workers arrive prepared on the first day of the job. Butler said this can work especially well for food, consumer goods and automotive manufacturing, where there is seasonality and unexpected demands.The idea of using contract workers in the industrial sector isn’t new, but the “Uberization” of the skilled workforce is. Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, vice president and general manager at Cisco, said the company turns to contingent workers to address talent gaps “when we can’t find someone with a particular skill set through traditional recruitment.” And Christopher Dwyer, research director at research and advisory firm Ardent Partners, said “the accessibility of the talent pool has changed enormously.”

Other companies are entering the space. FactoryFix also brings the gig economy concept to manufacturing with a network of engineers, programmers, machinists and maintenance techs available for on-demand work. Founder Patrick O’Rahilly, said that manufacturers will need to accept the gig economy, as there aren’t enough younger workers pursuing full-time careers in the industry.

While there can be a perception that gig workers are usually looking for full-time jobs, many are there by choice. Those who derive their full income from the gig economy, 30%, or 49 million people, consider themselves “free agents” and are there by choice. Many of these professionals attain greater flexibility, greater income, and more security through client diversification than they would working in a traditional job. “I would not describe gig workers in manufacturing as unmotivated by any means. There is simply a shift happening in the way people across multiple industries want to work,” Butler said.

Yet gig workers can come with risks and some say many advanced manufacturing positions aren’t suited for on-demand workers. Steve Kronenberg, a trial attorney at The Veen Firm, PC, said that in something like food manufacturing, workers typically need training to produce safe and high-quality products. He said even if a company can minimize direct costs, there is “serious risk” of damage to the brand in the court of public opinion. “This creates a significant risk of mistakes that lead to costly recalls and litigation that reduces profit margins and raises insurance premiums,” Kronenberg said.

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