There have been many changes for gig workers since before the pandemic. For example, pay rates for some industrial workers have risen by 40%. However, attracting contingents and keeping them engaged — from light industrial workers to high-end computer engineers — takes more than just increasing pay. It’s about listening to what they want and adapting to meet the unique needs of particular groups of workers.

“The biggest thing for us is we understand not just the market, but we understand the workforce,” said Cathy Penrod, director of workforce management, Menasha Packaging. “[I] and my team will go out and we will do focus groups to learn what the workforce wants.”

Penrod and other contingent workforce experts weighed in on what it takes during a panel discussion titled “Talent in the Driver’s Seat: New Perspectives on Managing Gig Workers” at SIA’s Collaboration in the Gig Economy conference held late September in Dallas. It was moderated by Subadhra Sriram, editor and publisher, media products, at SIA.

One example of change Penrod’s organization made based on worker feedback was in how workers enter some types of facilities. Contingents had been standing in line to get inside, but there were concerns that some workers were jumping the line, leading to problems.

“They now come to work, they don’t have to get up at three in the morning to try and make their shift,” she said. “They can get there, they sign in, they’re confirmed, and then they feel more comfortable because there isn’t somebody trying to jump the line.”

While Penrod discussed industrial contingents, fellow panelist Scott Eastin, director, Durand Technology Services Corp., commented on the needs of high-end technical contingents — those whose work might include Microsoft Azure or cloud security technologies.

“They’re looking for the same things that a lot of professionals in the audience are looking for,” Eastin said. “They want long-term work. They want to know that they are going to get paid on time. They want to have someone that understands what they’re going through because, quite frankly, working with high-end engineering talent and dealing with a lot of artists — that is the way that we approach them — and their currency is, obviously, being paid, but also their knowledge.”

Flexibility is key as well for many contingents, said panelist Jakob Rohn, CEO and co-founder, WorkN.

“They have something going on in their life where it makes sense for them to be a gig worker,” Rohn said. “It could be a sick mom. It could be financially driven. It could be childcare. It could be that they’re just the kind of person who loves to have different work. So there are a lot of reasons for it, but that flexibility for them to make work fit their life versus the other way around, I think, is very high on that list.”

The question of benefits also arose. Brad Talwar, founder and CEO of TalentBurst Inc., said his firm recently put in place a more robust employee assistance program after usage of the existing program surged when the pandemic hit.

“If they’re feeling desperate or if there are mental health issues or they are really depressed or they just want to talk to people about what’s going on in their life, they can use our EAP provider,” Talwar said. “At the time of onboarding, they’re given all the information as to how to access that service. It’s totally free … to them — we pay 100% for it.”

Same-day pay is also popular, and Talwar said his firm also assists in paying for gas so workers can get to their assignments.

Safety was discussed as well, with the question to answer being, “Do workers feel safe entering a facility?” Penrod said it’s more than just personal protective equipment. Is there a de-escalation process? Is there a plan in case of active shooters? Penrod said her organization aims to lead when it comes to safety.

Listen and respond appropriately to your workers, the panelists agreed, and you will find them easier to engage and retain.