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In a T-Systems article on working trends dating back three years to December 2016, one observation made was that “Work is no longer static, but flexible both with regards to cooperation as well as to type and nature of jobs”.

The article used the term Liquid Work to describe a growing phenomenon – the definition of which varies depending on one’s perspective:

–   For a company it represents the demand for greater workplace – and workforce flexibility. This could mean for example, more people working virtually, or engaging specialists in temporary assignment or project roles.

–   From the perspective of a worker, the quest for a more meaningful life/work balance and life/work integration are the main drivers for wanting a more flexible approach. “Work but on my terms” so to say.

This new paradigm is primarily being driven by two factors: In the first instance, by the dynamic and rapid nature of digital change – not only with IT teams per se, but also with digital requirements permeating the entire organisation as big data and customer-driven digital solutions steer and often lead strategic company thinking.

LACK OF SKILLED WORKERS – MILLENNIALS ON THE MARCH

In the second instance, an inherent lack of available skilled personnel to fill new -age assignment positions are resulting in the employee having a stronger voice in determining (their) working conditions. Although several mid to longer-term solutions to combat this situation are being tabled, the fact remains that in Switzerland in the short-term, offshoring flexible workers or contractors appears to be the only realistic solution to fill the widening delta of a rapidly growing number of open specialist positions. And this across several industry sectors – predominantly led by IT and Finance but also including others such as pharmaceuticals and engineering.

One result of the ability to operate virtually and take one’s unique skillset to the “highest bidder”, is that an increasing number of workers are now looking for more flexible or project-type roles. This also suits the millennial ‘s character traits, as these often have high expectations of their employers, tend to seek new challenges at work, and aren’t afraid to question authority. Ultimately this constellation could also be a good fit for organisations taking on short term customer-driven projects.

As an example: according to a recent New York Times document, in March 2019 Google worked with roughly 121,000 temporary workers and contractors around the world, compared with 102,000 full-time employees. These often work side by side with full-timers, Google temps are usually employed by outside agencies.

The above is not an exceptional case – in fact in the U.S. in 2018, most technology firms used contract workers for 40 to 50 percent of their staff. Contractors currently make up about 20 percent of the U.S. labour market, with a prediction that contract workers could make up half of the American workforce within the next decade.

Due to the shortage of home-grown workers in Switzerland, more and more Swiss based companies are relying on contractor workers to fill short notice and project specialist positions particularly in the IT and Finance sectors but also in the Pharmaceutical and Engineering fields.

In Switzerland – according to statistics shown on www.swissstaffing.ch the growth in the numbers of temporary workers working full time roles reached 95’523 in 2018 an increase of 5.7% YOY.

Facilitating this trend are Swiss temporary recruitment and employment agencies which are an economic force to be reckoned with on the Swiss labour market. With 193 million hours worked and a wage bill of CHF 6.7 billion, the 408’819 temporary workers play a huge role in adding value and ensuring that Switzerland remains competitive thanks to their flexibility.

A BRAVE NEW DIGITAL WORLD

As the world becomes increasingly digital especially with AI now setting new processes and standards, IT continues to penetrate various work tasks, requiring closer cooperation between HR and IT – especially in keeping employees motivated in these dynamic environments. Project and “garage” network teams are replacing hierarchies. These project environments are flexible both in time and place with flat hierarchies. Empowerment of employees is now key.

In a classic liquid work environment, success is dependent on HR working well with all departments and in tandem to develop appropriate solutions. These must continuously adapt to the changing and developing conditions of liquid work to make the ideal a reality. By default, HR roles are now also becoming more liquid themselves as they are tailored to match new organisation structures and flatter hierarchies.

The desire by corporations to create employee brand loyalty and culture will have to be adapted to accommodate the new worker paradigm and become more outward facing and thereby more customer service and success focused.

So, three years after the T-Systems report where does Switzerland stand with regards to talent availability, liquid working and engaging of offshore contractors?

CONCLUSION

There are several factors influencing and driving the phenomena of Liquid Work, Contracting and Temp Working. In Switzerland these include digital change, lack of home-grown talent and social expectations of millennials:

o The speed of digital change and with it the disruption of various traditional “untouchable” industries such as banking and insurance is here to stay. In fact, if anything the speed of disruption will only increase.

o Although there are several initiatives in play to improve the Swiss school system ( www.oecd.ch ) including attracting more teachers, the fact remains that in the short term, there is simply not enough qualified or skilled home-grown talent to fill the highly specialist roles now open across multiple industry sectors in Switzerland.

o Temporary working continues to grow in popularity in Switzerland as a new-generation-mentality focuses more on its own lifestyle management. Lifelong learning is now accepted as being the norm and up-skilled workers are in a strong position in terms of being able to use their skills flexibly.

Traditional company hierarchical structures are being challenged and replaced by flat, growth and project focused organisations with systems in place to support independent and skilled workers. This is happening across multiple industry sectors and across all roles including HR where websites dedicated to liquid thinking are setting new parameters and expectations in employment (www.liquidhr.com.au).

In Switzerland given the dynamic nature of its social structure (approx.: 2m foreigners from a total population of 8.5 million) and the country’s two main universities being global leaders in innovation and start-up’s (EPFL Lausanne and ETH Zurich – both ranked in the world’s top Universities), it can only be expected that Switzerland will continue to innovate and be a leader in defining new employment structures and with it, trends.

Although contracting (or freelancing as it is sometimes referred to in Switzerland) has been used as an employment vehicle for many years, given the ongoing dynamic trends highlighted in this article, it seems highly probable that Contracting, and Temp Work will only continue to grow and flourish in Switzerland in the coming years.

Footnote: Accurity GmbH was established 20 years ago and the original founders continue to lead the Accurity team today with the same dedication to customer service and excellence as at the outset. Contractors are at the heart of our business and our work is designed to help the contractor get the very best out of their contract in Switzerland.

We also support recruitment agencies from around the world who wish to place permanent or contract staff in Switzerland – our role is to leverage our expertise to fulfil the legal and financial employment requirements made by Swiss law.

Our role with regards to Swiss based client companies is to ensure that all placements, whether permanent or contract are made in accordance with Swiss law in the very dynamic employment environment in Switzerland.