- Emily Bain
Emily Bain, founding director of London-based executive talent recruitment agency Bain and Gray, reveals how the growth of the gig economy has transformed their business for the better.
In the last five years, we’ve seen the growth of the ‘gig economy’, typified by a far more independent, flexible workforce. This tide change in the way we work is not only transforming the global job market, but it’s also having a huge impact on HR and recruitment.
According to a report from McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), ‘Almost five million people in the UK are part of this growing independent workforce, which in the United States and most of Europe is estimated to include some 162 million people overall’.
As a London-based recruitment agency specialising in executive assistants (EAs), we’ve seen our typical candidate evolve to mirror this workforce development. Many of our EAs no longer need or want to work a 9–5, instead they seek flexible hours and short-term contracts as a personal assistant (PA) or EA, and even home-based remote work as a virtual assistant (VA).
Some candidates are workplace returners, while others are pivoting from their PA careers into passion projects or more creative careers that they hope will, in the long-run, outstrip their main source of incomes, or simply allow them a more balanced work/life setup.
Mothers going back to work are always successfully placed in VA roles. The VA is a smart option for career changers too, while they seek to build up a new career.
In McKinsey’s report, it states: ‘Free agents reported higher levels of satisfaction in multiple dimensions of their work lives than those holding traditional jobs by choice, indicating that many people value the non-monetary aspects of working on their own terms.’
We certainly see this to be true. Typically a VA will be juggling three to four clients at a time, and work flexibly within their schedule. As long as the tasks are done, they can set their own hours. And this is central to what they love about this kind of work.
While the Bain and Gray candidate has evolved, our clients have too. Increasingly, alongside our Blue Chip corporate clients, we are placing EAs with professionals seeking short-term, project-based assistance with their burgeoning start-up ventures. And the flexible EA, who isn’t vying for a permanent contract or even an office base, fits their needs perfectly. Win-win.
What we’re talking about specifically is private individuals, freelancers, entrepreneurs who have no requirement for a full time PA or don’t want to commit to a PA salary because their projects are on an ad-hoc basis. For example, digital marketers who are located all around UK cities and who, rather than paying for a permanent office, are successfully based in creative, shared work spaces.
Outsourcing the admin that might be holding them back is a smart move. Entrepreneurs with start-ups struggle to even know how long they’ll need a PA for, so we can assess their needs and advise them – be it a part-time PA, a temp or a VA. The VA can give them the confidence and flexibility to figure out what they need for the longer term. They don’t even have to commit to a minimum number of hours.
This evolution in the workforce has seen the decline of the once in-demand career temp. Most candidates seeking temp work are pursuing something else, which could be either a full-time job or setting up a part-time business. Or they might be travelling and earning as they go on a working visa. Or even be an actor between jobs.
This type of employee has been labelled a ‘Slashie’. And it’s the ability to earn while at the same time focusing on their skill or craft that is also contributing to the growth of the gig economy. Generally, the Slashies we have on our books are creatively talented individuals who can’t make a living solely from their craft – yet. Most do temp jobs or do admin work during the day to support their passion. Several Slashies we look after at Bain and Gray are yoga teachers, artists, actors, bloggers, milliners and even a baker.
We particularly find actors to be hard-working chameleons. Flexible work allows them the opportunity to earn while not missing casting opportunities. It’s up to us to support this and in turn educate our clients to also support this. We are now in an age where we can work around our staff to help them invest in their other interests. The perception of this has dramatically shifted and far from being seen as a bad thing by our clients, today a career temp CV is actually met by employers with the question, “Why don’t they have a job?” It needs to be justified.
The success of the gig economy is purely down to digital developments. With so much direct access to the consumer through websites such as Instragram/Etsy/Facebook, individuals can launch their product and reach a huge audience through a click of a button and with no or little cost.
And in just a couple of years, this demographic now makes up between 5 and 10% of our temp desk and we see no sign of it slowing down.
Emily Bain is founding director of London-based executive talent recruitment agency Bain and Gray