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Guest post: The rise of the free agent talent pool

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Posted by Alison Citti

October 19, 2009

We are happy to welcome Crossfire Group's Martin W. Rosenau, President and CEO, and Program Director Ellen Tilley, guest contributors to The Seamless Workforce. Martin and Ellen explore changing employee attitudes, an issue they encounter frequently when coaching professionals who experience early retirement or are the victims of downsizing. ~Mike Zambon

Today's workforce has a limited sense of loyalty toward employers, and many employees lack confidence in their current employment situation. Generations X and Y have been programmed to change jobs, and possibly careers, at least five times during their lifetime. Beginning in the mid-80s, the U.S. has steadily shifted from an employer-centric to an employee-centric culture. This culture is supported by the tax structure where we now have 401(k) plans and self-directed IRAs making our retirement accounts portable. Plus, with the recent debate around health care, there is a move to separate health plans from the employer, making them more portable as well, and further emphasizing this "free agent" culture. Companies are now faced with re-inventing their offering to potential employees beyond retirement and health benefits.

For the "Silent Generation" and "Baby Boomers," it was somewhat of a surprise as 'job hopping' became more acceptable throughout the 90s. Having spent the better part of their careers defining themselves by what they do, these mature workers are challenged to view their contribution to the workforce from a free agent perspective. This challenge carries with it a tightly packaged skill set and rules for where their skills can best be utilized. As a result, this group of employees, now either through layoffs or forced early retirement, find themselves in a never-ending job search. Part of their search criteria is the quality of the health and retirement benefits, where these are diminishing rapidly.

A recent Wall Street Journal article painted a very bleak picture of the older worker laid off for more than a few months, going so far as to say they are seen as unemployable. These workers tend to drop out of the labor pool at the end of their unemployment benefits, not wanting to invest in education to retrain, and frustrated at the loss of options.

The new generation of employee, who have grown up at a faster pace and seen everything in their environment change with advancements in technology, is better equipped to reinvent themselves and repackage their skill sets to be utilized in multiple landscapes. This generation of employee expects to always be moving within various industries and job descriptions.

They come pre-packaged with retirement plans and perhaps soon, health care options. For those of us who serve this community of candidates, it is a time to provide support to help them evaluate their options. Hiring companies, recruiters, career coaches and the like find themselves in the position of managing free agents.

A 'jobless' recovery, or at least a slow growth recovery, requires strategies that allow organizations to collaboratively work with what is likely to be a very robust free agent market for at least the foreseeable future.

~Martin W. Rosenau and Ellen Tilley

Topics: Staff Management, HR Strategies

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