The Elephant in the Room at HR Tech: Contingent Workforce

elephant victor zastol'skiy/Adobe Stock

I’ll be donning my analyst safari hat and attending the HR Tech conference in Chicago this week (Oct. 4–7) for the first time since 2013. HR Tech has been for many years the No. 1 conference in the world addressing technology for managing human resources. When I last attended, I found it puzzling that there was practically no attention paid to contingent workforce, a growing and large part of a company’s workforce (then on average about 20% of the total and in several years up to 50%). There was not even a handful of exhibitors among hundreds, and it appeared that few, if any, of the several thousand attendees (predominantly human resources professionals) were too concerned by this absence.  

Beh, I thought. Perhaps non-employees are not human resources. Like leased assets or services, they are not a part of nor treated as the human capital of a business. Surely it made sense for HR professionals to stick to their own knitting and let procurement attend to the rest. I tried to appreciate the perspective of HR professionals that the contingent workforce --unlike employee human capital, which is retained longer term within the boundaries of the firm--is just not strategic. Still, all of this went against the grain of what I knew and what I knew many HR professionals did not think about or did not think they should.

But certainly this confounding condition could not stand, given the advent of the freelance and gig economies, the new statistics about the surprisingly high numbers of contingent work arrangements, and finally an increasing number of reports and a book like this one, which is largely targeted to hiring managers and HR professionals: “Lead the Work: Navigating the World Beyond Employment” by John Boudreau, Ravin Jesuthsan, and David Creelman. Here’s the summary abstract from Amazon:

“Where getting things done once meant assigning it to an employee, today's leaders are increasingly at risk if they fail to recognize that talent can float into and out of an organization. Long-term employment has given way to medium- or short-term employment, marking the first step in severing the bond that once fixed an individual inside an organization. Getting work done by means other than an employee was once considered a fringe event, but now leading organizations are accepting and taking advantage of the notion that talent has shown itself to be mutable.”

Certainly, non-employee human resources are now very much a significant component of an organization’s human capital, and they are often highly strategic. And even where the resources (skills, work, etc.) are not strategic, the whole process of and diverse technology for sourcing, engaging and managing these resources nevertheless is. And to an objective observer it would be verging on insane for HR professionals not to see it that way. Seriously, people, is this really something to be left in the hands of the procurement troglodytes?


These robust specimens, some barely out of a petri dish and all seeking a niche in the well-established HR ecosystem, include:

  • (metamorphosing)
  • Fieldglass (ok, now a part of SAP)
  • MBO Partners (transformed from a caterpillar to a butterfly)
  • Wonolo (successfully speciating)
  • Work Market (sloughing its contingent workforce skin to reveal its total talent management aspirations)

Why this is this case, I am not sure. I am sure there are very good reasons for it. And I am certainly not going to conferences organizers, similar solution providers that chose not to exhibit and, most of all, HR professionals. Instead, I am going to invite HR professionals to visit the booths of those providers and learn as much as you can about what they do and why it is important for you. Then take away that importance and enlarge it by at least 200X and add to that your big blind spot.

As for myself, I am going to be on safari at HR Tech. I’m already familiar with the small game and will be paying them the tribute they deserve. But I am really here to bag the big game, the elephant in the room — I want to answer the big question about contingent workforce and what HR professionals really think and want to know.

If you have answers, please contact me at akarpie [at] spendmatters [dot] com.  If you would like to follow our coverage of contingent workforce and all things gig (and even sign up for email updates), then visit us at

Please follow Andrew Karpie on Twitter @andrewkarpie. Read more of our contingent workforce and services procurement coverage.

Voices (2)

  1. Alan Baren:

    While not at this year’s show, you can add to your list. Another vendor in the contingent workforce management space.

  2. Leslie Marsh:

    Andrew, as always I enjoy your perspective and was very excited to see you shed some light on the topic of the value proposition of CWM engagement for the HR community. Thanks!

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