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Shaken, not stirred

The credit union workforce is increasingly becoming an eclectic blend of consultants, contractors and part- and full-time workers.

Currently, “blends” are having a moment. Take frosé, a blend of frozen rosé wine with lemon juice or coconut water, for example, or Unicorn Frappuccino Blended Crème, a garish pink blend of iced coffee and, presumably, regret. But blends aren’t just hot in coffee and cocktails —“blended” is the new buzzword in human resources as well.

The blended workforce is characterized by staffing that combines full- and part-time employees, consultants and contractors all working together. Recent increases to this blend within the Canadian workforce have largely resulted from the growth of a digital economy, which has seen a rise in short-term, on-demand “gigs,” as opposed to lifelong jobs.

These increases are significant; a recent report by The Mowat Centre, a University of Toronto public policy think tank, indicates that 13 percent of Canada’s workforce in 2016 was made up of temporary workers and 19 percent of part-time workers — each representing a 57 percent increase from prior benchmarks. Other studies by Intuit and the Freelancers Union envision a not- too-distant future where at least 40 percent of the workforce is made up of freelancers.

HR professionals from Canada’s two largest credit unions, Vancouver City Savings Credit Union (471,000 members, $21 billion in assets) and Coast Capital Savings Credit Union (543,000 members, $15 billion in assets), recognize that, just as technology is evolving, so too is the makeup of their workforce. “I see the blended workforce as presenting a really unique opportunity for both credit unions and for individuals,” says Tracey Arnish, chief people officer at Coast Capital.

“…it increasingly appears the “gig” economy is here to stay, requiring very different leadership skills to manage an increasingly diverse workforce”

Arnish identifies increased need for specialized roles such as data scientists, data and analytics analysts and project and program managers in Coast Capital’s operations. But the individuals who have these skills are in such high demand they can dictate their terms and conditions of employment — such as when, where and how they want to work. And while Arnish needs these individuals’ expertise on discrete projects, she doesn’t always require them on a permanent basis, making an alternate arrangement attractive to both parties. Moreover, Arnish sees that the desire for flexible work schedules is growing not only for millennials but for workers of all generations.

Similarly, at Vancity, consultants or contractors are generally brought in to fill specialized skills that are often technology related. “What we’ve noticed with the rise of digital solutions is there will be a need to have that ever-changing skillset,” says Jason Wong, a director of people support at Vancity.

When special projects come up, internal talent is considered first before looking to contractors; at Vancity, more than 90 percent of the 2,600 staff occupy full-time permanent positions. Experimenting with knowledge transfer — having employees work with and learn alongside contractors — is one way Vancity has tried to build skills internally.

Laurie Smith paints a different picture of the blended workforces she’s seen at the smaller and mid-sized credit unions (those with staff numbering from eight to 120), where she consults. A Regina-based human resources consultant with Central 1 Credit Union, Smith often works with credit unions that use contractors outside of the technology field. For example, contractors may be called in to credit unions based in small communities because those branches can’t attract the talent they need, or simply can’t afford to have a full-time employee in a specialized area of employment. Human resources, marketing, finance and management are among the areas where these credit unions might rely on external contractors.

Regardless of the reason, it increasingly appears the “gig” economy is here to stay, requiring very different leadership skills to manage an increasingly diverse workforce. “It challenges leaders to ensure we’re getting the engagement and the productivity out of these differently structured teams,” Arnish says. ◊