Experience Trumps Millennials In The On-Demand Economy

5 min read
Jeff Wald, President & Co-Founder
April 15, 2016
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This post was originally published on Forbes on April 13th, 2016.

Contrary to popular opinion, millennials are not taking over the working world, despite the fact they’ve overtaken baby-boomers to become the largest living generation and passed Gen X as the biggest segment of the U.S. workforce.

Read any article about the workforce in the past few years and you’ll see something about millennials. The term is one of the most popular buzzwords in hiring and recruiting, with plenty of posts about how corporations can attract this sought-after group of tech-enabled, dynamic and creative workers.

This is especially true in the on-demand economy.

There’s no question that millennials are an important part of the on-demand workforce, with 38% freelancing as of 2015, according to a Freelancer’s Union study. It’s even been said that the current freelance boom has been driven by the millennial psychographic—freedom, flexibility, and technology. The thought is that because millennials are more tech savvy, they want more freedom in their work choice.

We disagree that the on-demand economy is being driven by millennials, but offer instead that the real drivers are skills and experience. But before we move on, let’s explore how we got here.

The Skills That Got Us Here

Over the last generation, we have seen the breakage of the long term employment “contract.” Whether the driver was technology, demographics, cost or skill gaps, it has become a common fact that few will ever work for one company throughout their entire career. Gone are the days when most hires were fresh-faced graduates ready to be trained, nurtured, and developed over their careers, marching steadily toward their promised gold watch.

With labor no longer a long term commitment several things began to happen. Training and development went from a standard process to a perk. Companies don’t send new hires for six months of training anymore before they hit the line. Work could be done anywhere and project/task work was enabled. With a decreased focus on development and a disaggregation of some work processes, companies began to look for labor that optimized for flexibility, and of course, cost.

Companies had three main options for balancing costs while fulfilling labor and skill requirements. First, you can outsource operations. Second, you can build remote teams in low-cost countries. The problem with both these options is that with outsourced firms and remote locations, it can get very expensive to deal with logistics, quality, IP containment, culture, and many other issues.

The third option is to hire specific skills as they’re needed. This offers far greater control and flexibility to combat any problems or emergencies, and avoid additional costs putting out fires remotely. For this option to work, however, you need qualified, experienced professionals to fulfill your skill requirements. You need someone that can hit the ground running. Someone with experience in that skill, someone with judgment and work ethic, someone who is a subject matter expert.

Millennial Misconceptions

Millennials are far from being as qualified as they need to be. A Fortune magazine article from last year, titled “American Millennials are among the world’s least skilled,” examines a report measuring millennials in various categories like education, literacy, and even comfort with smart technologies, especially when compared to both adults and young people overseas.

“We really thought [American] Millennials would do better than the general adult population, either compared to older coworkers in the U.S. or to the same age group in other countries,” says Madeline Goodman, a researcher with the Princeton-backed Education Testing Services (ETS), the group conducting the study. “But they didn’t. In fact, their scores were abysmal.”

Given this reality, it’s a fallacy that millennials are the driving force behind the meteoric rise of the on-demand economy. Does this generation have the right skills to slot in to a project and get a finished product efficiently? In some cases, of course, but no different than any other generation, and in some cases, much worse. Certain areas will be dominated by those most familiar with new technologies. We see that much of the social media, virtual reality, and mobile work is being done by millennials. Not due to a psychographic, but rather due to their expertise in their skills.

Talent Over Age

Corporations are now responding to the need to hire for skills rather than a target demographic. Even though “freelance” and “millennials” were probably two of the most used and linked terms of 2015, today’s companies are actually seeking experienced, mid-career professionals for their hiring needs.

According to our recently-released 2016 Corporate On-Demand Talent Report, which surveyed more than 1,000 businesses from around the country, the most sought-after demographic for on-demand talent are mid-career professionals (35-55). The results aren’t surprising, given the fact that millennials haven’t yet had the chance to develop their skills to the level of their more experienced counterparts.

This is why it’s imperative to look for skills and talent in your freelancers. To be truly competitive with an on-demand workforce, your team needs to have the necessary skills rather than a certain psychographic. None of the algorithms in WorkMarket’s on-demand labor software factor in age when looking for qualified talent—there’s no “millennial” tag in our software.

So as businesses remain agile and competitive with today’s on-demand talent, the most important buzzword isn’t “millennial” but “skill” and “talent.”