Star Tech: Demand for agile-talent model to fill skill-shortage gap

Consultants can bridge gap between clients and flexible talent needs


Joydeep Sengupta

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Published: Sun 31 Jul 2022, 12:26 AM

Companies are struggling with chronic skill shortages as digital transformation takes centre stage in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Data shows that there is a growing demand for freelance consultants, especially in the financial services and management consulting sectors, in this part of the world.

Vikram Malhotra, Managing Director (MD), MENA, Outsized, cited a few reasons for a sudden increase in demand for freelance consultants in the region.

“Organisations are increasingly seeking to move to more agile-talent models,” he said.

“Individuals are increasingly seeking more control of their own careers. Now, people’s identities are more defined by their skills or areas of expertise as opposed to the organisation they work for. Besides, a permanent role being secure is proving to be nothing short of a myth,” he said.

“We’re seeing a market where there’s no longer a sharp divide between freelancers and those occupying permanent roles. Professionals are less bothered by the nature of the contract and are more interested in the value they get from each assignment,” he added.

Malhotra explained how consultants can bridge the gap between clients and flexible talent needs.

“There are largely three scenarios when clients hire us. Firstly, it could be a capability issue, i.e. they need to access skills they don’t have internally for a project or a key company initiative where they need specialists for a few months. It could be a financial services institution needing innovation consultants or digital product managers for a launch or consulting firms needing to bring in technical experts or experienced consultants. Secondly, clients could need more resources for projects that can be executed on time and without compromising on quality. Thirdly, to fast track the hiring process. For example, an insurer might need an actuary but instead of following a permanent recruitment process which often takes up to months until the person starts, an independent contractor is on a six- or 12-months’ contract and can have h/her on board in a matter of days or weeks,” he said.

Malhotra pegged the freelance consultants’ pool in the MENA region to be one million, and the corresponding global figure is estimated at around 20 million.

“In the UAE and the wider region, we’ve the advantage that clients are open to top talent from adjacent markets, which removes local availability issues. Similarly, we’re driven by our clients’ needs, and match them to local and international independent talents depending on specific requirements,” he added.

The freelancer consultants’ strength is expected to grow by 65 per cent in the next few years.

There has been a discernible trend where companies are moving up to 30 per cent of their total workforce to agile models, and, consequently, skilled talents are looking to take control of their career amid an exponential uptick in freelance consultants’ opportunities.

Outsized, which was established in 2016 and registered in the United Kingdom (UK), also started its India operations in the same year, followed by South Africa and Singapore in 2018 and 2020, respectively.

It’s planning to set up an office in the UAE — preferably Dubai — by the year-end and has been serving clients in the Middle East since last year from its Singapore office.

Outsized is allowing companies to reinvent the relationship between an employee and the workplace.

Now, most people define themselves by the skills they have and what they accomplish in terms of projects and outcomes, as opposed to what company logos they had or job titles.

Platforms like Outsized play a critical role in supporting this concept and redefining what "employee" means. What used to be only permanent employees working in the office can now be on-site, hybrid or remote, permanent or contract, as categories expand.

Malhotra elaborated on the trend. “Companies need to be attractive not only to the traditional permanent employee, but also to freelance talents. They need to have a well-thought plan through Employer Value Proposition to all their workforce — irrespective of their status and whether they work on-site or remotely. All the staff must be given not only fair terms and conditions, but also being set up for success in their respective roles. If companies stick to this plan, talents would be readily attracted to them and these firms will succeed in an increasingly agile and competitive environment,” he added.

‘No resume spamming’

Outsized assists its clients — both talent platforms and legacy recruitment companies — in several ways. It targets the skilled segment of the market and has over 10,000 freelance consultants with up to 20 years of experience in its database. These consultants have been handpicked and vetted by its in-house experts. Malhotra hastens to add there “there is no resume spamming from us”.

The company uses a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) technology and quality assurance by its staff following which it shares relevant and available options with its clients.

“Clients can use a guided online tool or speak to our specialists. We use advanced algorithms to shortlist candidates, check availability and budget, do a final round of quality assurance and share a shortlist with the client. Usually, the process takes up to 72 hours. The client can use our product to select whom to interview. And a dream candidate can start within a week, depending on the client’s internal processes,” he said.

Freelance consultants in demand

  • Strategy consultants at various levels
  • Payment experts
  • Data analysts & data scientists
  • Technology architects & new-age technologists
  • Digital product managers and product owners
  • User interface (UI)/user experience (UX) designers and customer-experience experts
  • Transformation project and programme managers
  • Agile coaches and scrum masters

The Outsized Community initiative caters exclusively to independent professionals, allowing them to connect and support each other, including instant access to curated and personalised project opportunities, peer-to-peer learning such as live webinars and fireside chats with experts and clients, skill-based peer focus groups and access to a database of upskilling resources.

Initially, the use of independent consultants, professionals and enterprise-grade freelancers came to light in the US and Europe.

Later, after the Covid-19 pandemic struck, businesses across the globe had to pivot and dive headlong into remote working mode. It was during this phase that companies in the MENA region, especially in countries such as the UAE, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Omar, Qatar, and Bahrain, have reported an uptick in demand for freelance talents.

Companies in sectors such as banking, retail, fintech, insurance are scouting for strategy and management consultants to execute projects related to project management, risk management, data analytics, business analytics, mergers & acquisitions, proposition design, regulatory compliance and digital transformation.

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