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Interview

Why Distributed CEO Callum Adamson believes there is “no such thing as reskilling”

Instead, he believes freelancers are the solution to skills gaps.

Allie Nawrat

Technologist

Credit: EDDIE ESPINAL via Twenty20.

Unleash Your Curiosity How can HR tech platforms, like Distributed, help companies tap into freelance talent?

Skills are a hot topic right now.

Countless studies show there is a disconnect between the skills employers need and the skills and expertise employees and job candidates have.

For example, in early June, City & Guilds Group found that only 54% of businesses in the UK were able to recruit talent with the right skills, with 28% noting there was a mismatch between the skills the company requires and what is being taught at school and university.

Employees agree; 61% stated they don’t feel like they’re equipped with the right skills for new job opportunities in the next five years.

This skills gap is particularly concerning in the tech space. As digital transformation is gathering pace, especially with the pivot to remote working in the pandemic, 22% of employers say they will need advanced digital skills in the next three years, but only 9% of employees surveyed are confident that they have these skills.

This is not just a UK problem, however.

ManpowerGroup surveyed 42,000 employers across 43 countries and found that 69% were struggling to hire talent with the right blend of skills and other competencies, such as accountability, reliability, and resilience.

The tech talent model is broken

Callum Adamson, CEO of global tech-focused freelance platform Distributed, sees these statistics, particularly in the realm of digital, as proving that the tech talent model is broken.

Distributed CEO Callum Adamson.

He argues that all companies with a future have to rely on technology, and “that in itself tells you there are not enough people to do the amount of work that needs to be done”.

Another problem is that “we can’t increase the supply or train fast enough to get supply to meet demand”, explains Adamson.

“For example, there are 1.85 million software development jobs currently on Indeed”, but all “the US universities combined only have 42,000 computer science graduates a year”.

A major concern is that this discrepancy between what employers need and what employees have is only going to get bigger given the pace of digital transformation.

So, Adamson argues, “even if you do have the team that is right for your business today, in eight months that’s not going to be true”.

No such thing as upskilling or reskilling

Upskilling and reskilling are often touted as the solution to this problem.

But Adamson is very clear that “there is no such thing as upskilling and reskilling – it is a career change.”

He believes the process is very time and knowledge-intensive, as well as a costly process for employers, especially since the average tenure for software developers is 12 months.

The tech industry has one of the highest employee attrition rates – 13.2% — according to 2018 analysis by LinkedIn. This has likely only been worsened by the pandemic and the fact that demand for talent is outstripping supply.

So, why would an employer invest all of this time and effort and resource into that individual to ‘upskill’ or ‘reskill’ them when the data says they’re not going to be in this organization in two years, asks Adamson.

Freelancers are the solution

Instead of trying to upskill and reskill employees, Adamson notes employers need to tap into an undervalued and underutilized resource: freelance tech talent.

This fits in with his view that the world of work – and particularly the competition for talent – is becoming more and more commoditized and transactional.

However, successfully tapping into the pool of freelance talent is much easier said than done. Employers often struggle because this is hard to do “at scale, consistently and repeatedly”, as well as cost-effectively, according to Adamson.

The core issue is that companies need to recruit, onboard, manage and then retain a very “liquid, dynamic, flexible pool of talent”, which are geographically spread out and at different levels of seniority.

He likens the challenge to “trying to keep track of a colony of bees”.

The situation is further complicated because companies also need to think about freelancer’s experience at the organization, including the variety and quality of work they are doing, as well as the quality of teams that they are going to be working with internally.  

Enter HR tech

This is where HR tech platforms, like Upwork, Malt, and Adamson’s Distributed, come in to drive efficiencies.

Adamson argues that Distributed’s offerings are unique from its competitors.  

This is because it works as more than just a marketplace. It is an aggregator that acts as pain relief for both sides of the transaction — freelancers and employers — Adamson says.

He explains that when freelancers join up to Distributed, they no longer have to worry about their “sales pipeline”, “they don’t need to constantly look for new jobs” and “they don’t need to spend time onboarding themselves into a new team software environment”.

Additionally, they don’t have to worry about being paid, which is a serious struggle and concern for freelancers.

Instead, the logistics is done by a Distributed team member, so the freelancer can just focus on getting the job they have been contracted in to do.

In addition, Distributed provides freelancers with a standardized idea of what finished looks like.

“One person’s idea of finished is very different from another person’s”, but, Adamson explains, the platform aims to standardize that, so everyone is clear about what is to be delivered.

Ultimately, Adamson argues that Distributed’s platform offers “a better quality of work and a better experience for our talent side” than its competitors.

While on the employer side, Distributed’s platform gives them access to an already vetted global talent pool. It also “takes away the pain of recruitment, qualification, onboarding, management, and retention”.

Therefore, allowing businesses and organizations to “work on a flexible cost base with a higher quality of talent that has more skin in the game”, and therefore leading to better outcomes.

Despite being only four years old, Distributed already supports a huge range of employers, both in the private and public sectors. For example, it works with the Ministry of Justice, Capita, the NHS, as well as startups like Offerd and Dragonfly.

The future of work is freelance

It is no surprise that, with the help of HR tech solutions like Distributed, Adamson believes the future of work is freelance.

He explains that if platforms like Distributed can solve the pain points for freelancers, then it represents a better way of living.

“If they are not worried about work coming down the pipe, their next role, or their income, then it absolutely represents a better way of life”.

However, he adds not all of the challenges facing freelancers have been solved; for instance, there are enduring issues around freelancers and self-employed people effectively saving for their retirement.

Looking to the future, Distributed aims to build new capabilities into the platform, including pensions. But it wants to do this for its global pool of talent, not territory by territory.

This is because Adamson is concerned it will make the benefits of Distributed to freelancers lopsided based on location; “I would rather solve for Earth than for the individual”, he concludes.

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