A Wild and Crazy New Model of Employment

Companies today adhere to a decades-old recruitment process originally designed for in-person paper applications — a pre-Internet, one-company-for-life era that has quickly passed us by. The Internet increased our visibility of choice and ease of application, which – coupled with accelerating, always-on technology — shortened our attention spans to less than a goldfish’s.

Whatever the reasons, average employment tenure has declined significantly since the typewriting days. In fact, students today are projected to have an average of 17 jobs in as many as five careers or industries throughout their lifetime.

The implications are staggering; from increased recruitment and onboarding costs to brain drain to the stress of starting over again and again, both employer and employee will face challenges unique to this new world of work. In this forever-LinkedIn world, virtually every job across every industry is visible and accessible, presenting seemingly limitless opportunities. People are hopping more often and more broadly — across a wide range of industries and sizes.

Which begs the question: if the one-company-for-life era has passed, and frequent job-hopping is the new normal, why has the recruitment model — or better yet, the employment model itself — not changed? 

The Employer Collective Imperative

A few decades ago, “leadership rotational programs” sprung up in companies far and wide. The goal was to keep high-potential college grads engaged in the company by fluctuating their assignments, keeping things new and exciting, and rendering them less likely to flee. In large organizations it was uncommon to move across functions, so the rotational programs forced the move: every 6-12 months, the employees would rotate from Finance to HR to Supply Chain, rounding them out for future management positions. In some cases retention clauses were built into the offer letters — leave the company within five years of completing the program and you forfeited your bonuses (or something like that). The company was making a sizeable investment in you, and flight wasn’t in the plan.

In today’s world of work, flight is the norm. Ubiquitous ads proffer greener pastures at every turn — advance your career, picture yourself here! The high-demand, “critical-skill” set bounce from one employer to another, bidding up their wage and social capital in one fell swoop. Companies decry a “war on talent,” refusing to admit talent won years ago.

Rather than continue on the perfect-job-perfect-candidate roller coaster, let’s imagine a different reality: one in which flight is part of the plan, with transition assistance built in.

Imagine your “rotational assignment” takes you not only from Finance to Accounting to Strategy — but from GE to Indeed to Slack. Maybe the opportunities are grouped by location; maybe they are remote. They key here is that moving between companies is as seamless as an internal company move. One application, one background check, one onboarding process that moves with you, from job to job (did someone say “blockchain”?) — within or outside of your current company.

That’s right — we are talking about inter-company rotational programs. Or perhaps they are less “program” than agreement — an agreement between the employee and a set of employers the employee can rotate across based on career goals, interests, and work needs. Less “job” than “project” less “employer” than “partner,” we are talking about the rise of a brand new concept: the employer collective. 

3 Reasons This Could Materialize (the Business Case)

Cost Savings

Consider the costs of replacing 20 job incumbents at a $5,000 cost-per-hire. That’s a $100,000 investment. Would you rather spend that every 10 years or every six years? How about every three? Assuming the quality of talent is equal, the cumulative recruitment costs of increased employee churn are astronomical — and potentially avoidable. Why spend an average of 42 days to fill a requisition when you could spend three? We can rightfully assume employers will do anything to lower costs — including sharing their candidate pools.

Convenience

Job searching sucks. Why start from square one when you can start from somewhere in the middle? From the candidate’s perspective, company collectives are a win-win. They spend less time job searching and have more viable options. Who wouldn’t want that?

Necessity

Technological advancement will further drive the need for new employment avenues. Recruitment process automation, for example, stands to lower cost per hire by automating some of the front-end sourcing work (digging through resumes, candidate screening and scheduling, etc.), but will also enable more fluid (and frequent) movement between jobs. Onboarding employees, then, is yet another expensive endeavor: if employees of the future have 17 jobs, organizations will simply not be able to continue on with the archaic Mad Men-era processes.

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A World of Fluid Employment

Employer collectives will initially face enormous roadblocks, from data privacy to adverse impact to antitrust and intellectual property concerns — and let’s not even get into the suboptimal state of applicant tracking databases today, which would need a wrecking ball to start with.

Certain companies in certain industries may be flat-out barred from participating. But some will figure out how to make it work. The question, then, is not if but when — who will be the first to drive this trend? Will the usual suspects step up and shake up job hunting as we know it (Google, LinkedIn, etc)? Or will savvy startups and thirsty investors seize the opportunity before the big boys have time to pivot?

Rather than continue on with the same old processes designed for a bygone era, companies may be forced to embrace the new normal and design a new model.

Will sharing employees be the wave of the future? I am interested in your thoughts — please comment below or in the ERE Facebook group.