According to a recent survey by Kelly Services, about 31 percent of the global workforce considers themselves to be “free agents.” Free agents may be temps, independent contractors, freelance business owners, moonlighters or people who derive their income from multiple sources or jobs. Many of these free agents have chosen their free agency lifestyle because they believe it provides more security and autonomy than traditional careers as employees. The enthusiastic adoption of free agency employment has led to the rise of a new employment model dubbed the “gig economy.”

The Work Style of Choice

In the U.S. fewer than 10 percent of free agent workers say they were driven to adopt the workstyle because of external economic factors such as layoffs or downsizing. And just as surprising, the ratio of free agents to traditional employees is relatively consistent across generations, with 26 percent of Generation Y, 28 percent of Generation X and 36 percent of Baby Boomers reporting free agent employment status. While there is some variation in the percentages across global regions, the trend is clear. More and more people are embracing the new gig economy and leaving traditional employment models behind.

What the Gig Economy Means for Manufacturers

Over the next 10 years, 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be created in industrial settings. This is great for economic growth and of course employing millions. These new jobs will employ workers such as a welders, carpenters and heavy equipment operators for employers who need heavy machinery movers. Nearly 2 million of them will go unfilled because employers can’t find candidates with the right skills according to Deloitte. The very workers that manufacturing companies need are the ones most likely to choose free agency, because when looked at in total, free agents are more likely than traditional workers to have an advanced degree or a sought-after technical skill. Engineers currently make up about 15 percent of the free agents in the workforce. Engineering skills are highly sought after by manufacturers for product design, QA and process modeling, among other key roles. Tool and die makers, CNC programming or set up and precision assembly and machining skills are also in high demand and short supply in manufacturing.

As workers age they gravitate more toward free agency. The manufacturing workforce is aging rapidly, and according to Pew Research, 10,000 Baby Boomers will reach retirement age every day through 2030. Retirement is a big deal though, as people will want to make sure that they have a nice comfortable retirement. It’s not just the retirement plan that entices people anymore though, people want to know that they will be able to look after your family’s financial future easily. Millennial workers are not drawn to careers in manufacturing in the same numbers as previous generations, but they are strongly drawn to roles in the gig economy because of the flexibility and autonomy.

Addressing the Skills Gap with ERP

The result of younger workers and skilled workers turning away from manufacturing while a large percentage of the entire workforce turns to free agency means manufacturers will need to become more flexible in their hiring practices, even though much of manufacturing requires experience and company specific skills.

Job sharing, mentoring programs, community outreach and educational intervention have all been mentioned as ways to address the skills gap by creating more skilled employees and more flexible hiring practices, but one area that is rarely addressed is manufacturing ERP. Almost every employee in a manufacturing company interacts with the ERP system to some extent, and yet traditional ERP systems have taken time and training to master. Traditional ERP systems are at odds with the needs of the gig economy, which has given rise to a new, more flexible and intuitive class of ERP solutions that deliver a more straightforward user experience.

Manufacturing ERP for the Gig Economy

When manufacturers are using free agents for critical business and production roles, they expect to get top shelf skills, but they need an ERP system that works the way users expect it to. It doesn’t take training to enter an order on successful e-commerce sites, and the ideal ERP user experience offers the same ease and intuitiveness. That calls for common Internet navigation standards, and clean uncluttered screens. Interaction and communication between users should be as simple as using Twitter or Facebook. The modern manufacturing ERP system make it easy for a free agent employee to become productive and effective on day one.

What Does Manufacturing ERP for the Gig Economy Look Like?

Flexible
When you have free agents, you want to be sure they are productive from day one. Look for ERP solutions that allow you to tailor business systems to your industry, and even to individual users. The result: users will be more effective and productive right from start and you won’t waste precious resources training them on complex business tools.

Accessible
Free agent employees—and even regular employees–may not always complete their projects on-site or from 9 to 5. To meet the needs of employees who work from anywhere at any hour of the day or night, you need an ERP solution that is securely accessible using any device equipped with a modern browser.

Secure
Since free agents may be hired to work on a specific project or task, you’ll want to enforce strict security access to your ERP system. And because they may be accessing your systems from anywhere, you can’t always be sure of their network security, so you will want to be sure that your ERP system uses SSL and strong encryption to keep your precious data safe. In addition, ask the vendor if their offering has been tested by “white hat” hackers and intrusion detection specialists so you can rest easy that you are secure whether you deploy on premise or in the cloud.

Control
When you have employees on contracts, every day counts. You can’t afford to have your business disrupted by unplanned ERP upgrades that your cloud vendor pushes without warning. You need an ERP partner who understands the complexities of manufacturing and works with you to plan the timing of your upgrade so it doesn’t interfere with your planned projects or certification audits.

Simple
Many ERP systems are designed to meet the needs of customers in multiple industries, so the business processes are complex. A vendor focused on manufacturing can easily tailor the processes to the industry. That makes it easy for you to bring people on quickly, and you can adapt processes and the user experience to each user.

Predictable
When your head count varies, your user count varies. You shouldn’t be forced to buy and pay maintenance on licenses that will sit unused to meet peak demand. Look for flexible and predictable license terms that let you add or remove users as your needs change.

Low Risk
You shouldn’t bet your business—and your career—on unproven technology or an ERP solution that hasn’t been used by thousands of other customers like you, yet many ERP companies think nothing of asking you to do just that. Look for proven, dependable software and technology from an ERP partner who stays current with your needs but doesn’t force you onto the bleeding edge of new.

Freedom
With the gig economy in full swing, you need an ERP solution that gives you the freedom to make changes as you need them, whether that means customizing a business process for maximum efficiency or deploying some sites in the cloud while others stay on premise. Look for an ERP partner who understands and cares about its customers, and you will find the freedom and flexibility you need in a manufacturing ERP solution that works for the gig economy.

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