The past three years have seen a rise in the use of contingent workers globally. According to Willis Towers Watson's new report featuring inputs from 44 countries, three years ago, seven in 10 organisations were already using "non-employee talent".

Thus, going forward, employers expect full-time employees to represent a smaller share of their overall workforce in the next three years, with a corresponding increase in the proportion of contingent talent during this period.

This data is based on the views of 1,014 companies worldwide in the Pathways to Digital Enablement Survey.

This global phenomenon of moving to a more fluid workforce will rely heavily on contingent workers, wherein they will be valued for "the increasing sophistication of the skills" they possess, the work expected from them, combined with the growing premium placed on speed.

Adding to this, they can frequently be more quickly sourced, onboarded and deployed productively to specific projects than traditional employees, as cited in the report.

Per the study, in three years, more organisations will rely on free agents, talent on a platform, and workers on loan from other organisations (image below). Even organisations not currently using any of these talent options expect to catch up quickly in their use of them.

For example, the group of companies not depending on talent platforms today expect that in three years over 4% of their workforce will consist of free agents on a platform.


APAC and Singapore findings: The state of digital transformation

The crux of the report was around automation and digital transformation, for which regional-specific data finds that only 9% of organisations in Singapore have developed an integrated digital business strategy and road map.

In fact, just over half of all organisations are either reacting to changes in the business environment with very rudimentary digital capabilities (27%), or have a digital strategy that is not aligned with their business strategy (27%). These are detailed in the graph below:


Even so, the study found that the proportion of work delivered through automation among companies has more than doubled over the last three years, from 8% to 20%, and is expected to grow to 34% in Asia Pacific in the next three years.

Additionally, nearly all respondents (92%) expect to be using workplace automation, including artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, within three years.

"Workplace automation has been growing in leaps and bounds, and all signs point towards continued expansion,” said Vidisha Mehta, Managing Director, Talent & Rewards, Singapore, Willis Towers Watson.

"With such widespread change, employers must address how they’ll get work done. Companies that understand the impact of automation and digitalisation on their workforces, and are able to develop an integrated digital and business strategy will be best positioned to gain competitive advantage.”

In an exclusive with Human Resources Online, Vidisha Mehta drilled down into some of the key insights from the report, excerpts below: 

Q Given that automation among companies has more than doubled over the last three years in APAC, what functions or tasks are likely to be more automated in HR?

Automation has increased across functions, not just within HR teams. Transactional processes are some of the first areas that organisations focus on, as these are routine and rule-based tasks. E.g. first-level customer service, processing of claims for insurance companies, etc. are being automated through a combination of intelligent coding, RPA, and social robotics (chatbots).

In HR, transactional processes within HR operations or shared services is a focus area for automation to start with. There is also increased use of ESS and MSS through cloud based platforms, supported by social robotics.

Q With only 9% of organisations in Singapore having developed an integrated digital business strategy, what is the biggest challenge for HR leaders to overcome in making this a reality?

Digital strategy is currently being pursued in a piecemeal manner in Singapore and globally. There are several, often unconnected or even conflicting digital priorities that different functions drive, based on the objectives they would like to achieve.

Our study shows that organisations that have a chief digital officer (CDO), are better at developing an integrated digital and business strategy. This is because the CDO has a view across different parts of the organisation and is responsible for driving prioritisation of digital initiatives holistically.

The CDO is also typically responsible for setting the governance framework in place. The individual functions can then drive their function specific digital agenda.

The biggest challenges that HR leaders need to overcome are:

  • Understanding the technology drivers or disruptions for their industry, to contribute to the prioritisation as part of the organisation leadership team.
  • Understanding the short- and long-term implications of technology changes on people – in terms of strategic workforce planning, reinventing jobs and identifying new skills required.
  • Putting in place technology-enabled HR platforms that enable these changes, such as large-scale and rapid reskilling platforms.
  • Using advanced analytics to provide intelligence and advice to business managers about their people.
  • Ensuring that the human element of the organisation is strengthened through a clear sense of purpose, design of a segmented talent experience journey, and focus on upskilling business managers across levels to have meaningful career conversations with their teams.
Photos / Willis Towers Watson