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The future is here and it’s the flexible workforce

(BUSINESS NEWS) Technology has changed everything, including how the workforce spends their day, where they report from, and how “on demand” gig workers are today.

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Everyone is connected, all of the time. We’ve got our phones inches away, our televisions are smart, and we can even get emails on our fridges. Because of this hyper-connectivity, it’s changed how we’re working, how we collaborate, and how transparent teams have become.

Back in the day, most folks worked from 9-5. Today, we’re not exactly all rushing into the office by 9am sharp thanks to advances with technology as simple as sending a text message or email to the whole staff. We’ve become more flexible.

Businesses have shifted their methods of how work gets done, what can be achieved, despite teammates not sitting next to one another in an office. The workforce is getting younger, more technology-driven and because of this, flexibility has become a throughline for many successful teams. Whereas in the past, time off or working from home were “nice to have,” they’re now one of the first things a business has to discuss in the interviewing process.

But, what’s happening because of the inverse of services like Uber, Lyft, Favor, and Instacart, the gig economy is coming on strong. Everything is changing. What was once considered a role that’s full-time can now be done on an “as-needed” basis and the results are getting wild.

The Aspen Institute’s Workforce of the Future recently dropped a study citing that 60% of companies are using on-demand workers. The data also shows that 70% of companies are looking to hire more of a gig-based workforce in the future.

What exactly is a flexible workforce?

The definition of “flexible” is evolving because people want to work for themselves rather than punch a clock for someone else. The work can be a variety of project-based, seasonal, contracted, event-based, or even remotely.

Think of people who are:

  • Freelancers
  • Contingent workers
  • Part-time employees
  • Independent contractors
  • Gig workers

A whopping 36% of the U.S. workforce is involved in the gig economy – that’s 57 MILLION people, who are earning over a trillion dollars from gigs like delivering groceries, delivering food, working a specific event, or just testing out some software for an afternoon.

Why would anyone want to change up their business model and hire some flexible workers? Well, there are plenty of reasons.

Talent access

Depending on the community and work type, some companies choose to hire out contractors or freelancers because telecommuting is easier. By hiring for a one-time design or to get some copy written by using services like Upwork or Fivver, this allows creatives and corresponding managers to break traditional geographic constraints. This also means that niche professionals have broader access to companies who may need someone for a particular project that would usually disrupt the work of regular staff. The same thing could go for events and staffing a game when it comes to security or maybe a certain kind of bartender.

It’s cheaper

Let’s say you’re running a store in the French Quarter and every Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest the influx of tourists cripples your shop. There are people everywhere, and you need security, an extra register person and at least one other person on the floor to help customers. But, every other time of the year business is slower and manageable. A short-term worker would be able to come in just for these times with a clear understanding of the expectations as well the length of the work. This is cheaper than hiring someone part-time and keeping them on the fringes only for a few times a year.

Different people want different things

The makeup of the gig economy isn’t always who you think it is. While yes, there’s a large contingency that’s centered on Millennials and their constant search for work that’s meaningful, there are plenty of boomers who are working for something to do as retirement isn’t as fun as they expected. But, that also lends itself to those decades of experience, too. Generation X is looking for work-life balance and doesn’t want to be at work all of the time, so all three of these age segments offer a variety of worker types, all which can be used to fill different roles.

They’re available right now

Remember that instantaneous technology? A sector of the staffing and recruiting world has developed apps and platforms to meet the need for speed. Companies looking to get a job done right now have access to qualified workers who can do just that. Scalability and effectiveness have become the name of the game. Some companies (kinda like us) can even handle the paperwork and all of the details so a boss can put together their ask via their iPhone and get qualified leads back by lunch.

It’s beneficial for the long-term employees

Hiring someone for the short-term works to one huge benefit: it helps with employee burnout. By bringing in some folks to take care of a specific project or do something your regular employees just don’t have the time for, it improves morale. Plus, if someone does an incredible job at their temporary work, it might open the door to a conversation about longer-term employment – but on the company’s terms.

On-demand work is the fastest growing segment of the new workforce. People are picking up gigs everywhere. This is the model for the future, and it’s only going to continue to diversify. If you’ve got a project in mind that you’ve been casting off for months, getting the job done might be easier than you think. The technology is there.

Robert Dean is a writer at Adia and The American Genius. He is a writer, journalist, and cynic. His most recent novel, The Red Seven is in stores. Currently, he’s working on his newest novel, Tragedy Wish Me Luck. He also likes ice cream and panda bears. He currently lives in Austin. Stalk him on Twitter.

Business News

Class action suit hits vape company, Juul for illegally marketing to teens

(BUSINESS NEWS) Juul is a tiny vape stick that is popular among teens, a population the company is allegedly marketing directly to, grooming a new generation of addicts.

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This week, a class-action lawsuit has been filed against Juul for violating federal laws by marketing to American children.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and ten of his Democratic colleagues have written a letter to the CEO of Juul Labs, lambasting the e-cigarette company for prioritizing profits over public health. The biggest concern among the complaints that both the legislators and parents across country have against the vaping-tobacco giant is that Juul purposefully advertises their products for teenagers.

Juul denies such intent, claiming that their product (which has taken over two-thirds of the e-tobacco market according to some sources) is primarily to help traditional adult tobacco consumers quit smoking cigarettes. They’ve even released an ad recently that tried to emphasize this image.

However much they try to pivot to this e-cigarette as a self-care market, their own history is against them. According to the research of Robert Jackler, as profiled on the Smithsonian, the imagery that Juul uses in its advertisements is a throwback to the unregulated day of big tobacco in how it overtly entices youth. This is a part of a growing public health crisis.

Juul first became famous for looking like a USB drive, and became used widely by school children who could trick teachers into thinking they were carrying a harmless device, not a nicotine machine.

One of Jackler’s insights is that today’s teenagers were never as likely to begin smoking traditional cigarettes as people from the late 80s and 90s, so they were an untapped market. The New York Times, reporting on the increasing public pressure the FDA faces to regulate the e-tobacco industry, even went so far as to ask, “Did Juul lure teenagers and get customers for life?”

Juul’s reach to the younger generation was also confirmed by a team of researchers from Stanford University. By analyzing social media posts from Juul’s launch in 2015 to last fall, the Stanford team concluded that where Juul’s real innovation in the smoking and e-cigarette industry was not its product, but the way that it mobilized social media to hook young consumers.

According to an interview with Stanford researchers, “Juul hired social media influencers — people with large followings on Instagram — to promote its products. It created hashtags — #juul, #juulvapor, #switchtojuul, #vaporized — that the influencers blasted out to their followings, often featuring images of young people Juuling, or doing tricks or jokes with their device.”

The company shut down its social media accounts last year, but the damage was done. The hashtags are still updated daily.

This sort of bait-and-switch advertising extends beyond Juul’s young American audience and their marketing efforts.

Take for example, an Indian company that recruited Pierce Brosnan for what he believed was a commercial for a breath freshener line. Instead, it was a type of tobacco product called pan bahar (it is similar to chewing tobacco). The star said that he wasn’t aware of the nature of the product, that the company didn’t disclose its harmful effects, saying that he wouldn’t have chosen to endorse it otherwise, as he has lost family members to cancer.

Not wanting to endorse tobacco product, of course, is a commendable stance for Brosnan. But where are the social media influencers that continue to take money from Juul to target teens? Where is their rejection? They could very easily take a cue from Brosnan and say they were unaware, but instead, continue to force feed hashtags down unsuspecting childrens’ figurative throats.

Juul can call themselves an alternative to smoking all they want, but if even our politicians can see through the B.S., Juul has a real problem.

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Business News

High School ‘Signing Day’ for seniors starting careers, not sports or college

(BUSINESS NEWS) Our culture has long glorified athletic accomplishments, but as technical trades flourish in America, celebrating that career path is a new move – one we applaud!

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The scene is familiar: excited students at a table overlooking proud parents and teachers with letters of intent before them. “Signing Day” has become a rite of passage for high school seniors intending to continue a sport in college.

However, Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia are celebrating students beginning careers immediately after graduation.

Instead of joining a college football or basketball team, these students are acknowledged for entering the workforce, and for seeking success and financial stability as opposed to going into massive debt by enrolling in college.

College has become a norm in society in spite of the financial risks, and job placement is no guarantee for graduates. The option is not for everyone, and we should be doing more to recognize those who are pursuing technical skills. The objective of education, at any level, is to prepare students for a successful career.

By definition, these seniors from Henrico County have taken the first step towards that goal.

At the signing ceremony, the students met with their future employers to sign letters stipulating what they would do throughout their employment, and outlining the training and benefits. It is a big affair, and in an era where promposals (ugh) are a thing, why not glorify and enthusiastically praise in public an alternative Signing Day?

Students wore hats and shirts representing their future place of employment, and it is worth noting that this is a moment to celebrate adulthood, and making strides towards independence.

Technical skills are in demand, and it’s about time we lift up tradesmen and tradeswomen across the country. Their contributions help make our communities stronger.

Students should feel encouraged to pursue paths towards success which best suits their individual goals. And there is nothing wrong with celebrating them as a community, and hopefully someday, as a society.

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Business News

How the Lean concept can have the biggest impact on your bottom line

(BUSINESS) Using the Lean business concept and asking the non-sexy question of “What’s dumb around here?” your business will outpace your competitors in no time.

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Entrepreneurs love solving problems. That’s what they’re good at doing. In fact, the more complex, difficult and messy the problem, the more the entrepreneur will enjoy the challenge. Entrepreneurs are especially good at solving problems that nobody knew were there. Think about Steve Jobs: He knew that we needed a pocket MP3 player before we even knew what it was.

While entrepreneurs are coming up with the next “big” thing, we need the non-entrepreneurs in our organizations focused on solving the small problems in our company with the same enthusiasm. Imagine if every one of your team members were consistently looking for opportunities to improve your systems, processes and service delivery. Those subtle changes made in the non-sexy parts of the business usually have the biggest impact on the bottom line.

This is a business concept called Lean, in which a company changes their processes to create the most benefit to the customer using the least amount of resources possible. Lean is commonly used in the manufacturing industry, but its principles can be used in any business to change the way of thinking and doing things.

I recently witnessed a great example of how Lean principles were used to improve one of my clients, LuminUltra – a leading provider of microbiological testing hardware, software and services. The company serves industries that need to know quickly and accurately what’s living in their water. At a recent quarterly planning session at the LuminUltra offices in Fredericton, Canada, COO Charlie Younger shared a powerful story about the company’s manufacturing facility and challenging the status quo.

During the expansion of the company’s manufacturing facility, one of the team members was lamenting to Charlie about how much time it took to complete a lengthy step of the manufacturing process – one specific quality check that was very time-consuming. He remarked that in the history of the company they never had a single machine fail the test. Charlie’s first thought was, do they even need to perform this specific test again?

After more discussion with colleagues, the team realized that the other quality checks performed earlier in the manufacturing process would always identify a defective unit. With this knowledge, the manufacturing team asked for permission to perform minimal testing to still provide assurance with less work. When presented with the information, the company leadership agreed that it was a great idea and would save time and money as well as improve the employee experience. But the bigger question was: Why hadn’t anyone ever questioned this lengthy step of the manufacturing process before?

Charlie, having run Lean programs in the past, has seen this issue before: People continue to do what they’ve always done even if they think there is a better way. He thought this would be a great opportunity to use a fun, simple but elegant technique to capture other status quo breakers – in other words, he decided to use the same principles for changing the company’s production process to make other company decisions.

With that, he posted a whiteboard in the manufacturing room with the title “What’s Dumb Around Here?” and encouraged team members to capture possible “dumb things” to add to it. These topics are discussed and vetted during their Lean process meetings to determine if they can be improved.

When I discussed the new process with Charlie, he noted, “First, you have to create an environment where people are willing to question the status quo. We have always been highly focused on quality and accuracy, so the team thought it was outrageous to openly question a quality check we had been performing for years.”

He continued, “You have to help your management team be open to receiving ideas that might seem crazy and not overreact to the suggestions. Instead, simply ask them to explain their logic. More often than not, the front line knows a better way to do things but does not know how to navigate the change. The beauty of using Lean techniques is that you now have an easy navigation path to discuss, approve and roll out changes. Suddenly, you have an energized front line solving problems with minimal involvement from management – how great is that?”

While LuminUltra continues to grow their product line and expand into new markets, it expects that its implementation of Lean principles will help it make subtle but important modifications to processes that will positively affect its bottom line. The CEO, Pat Whalen, remarked, “If we can produce our products faster and more cost effectively and get them into the hands of our customers faster, we can have an even bigger impact on the water sector with our microbiological monitoring products. I need all of our team members thinking how we can improve every single day. The water sector needs us.”

Every visionary, big-thinking entrepreneur needs a team that challenges the status quo. How are you encouraging your team members to identify, “What’s Dumb Around Here?”

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