The role of contingent workforce managers is not what people dream of taking on. Even in the industry, most fall into it — many seeking more responsibility than their current HR role offers or a change from the supplier side of the industry — and then fall in love the job. It provides opportunity and potentially a seat at the table regarding the future of the company and how to get work done. And, of course, a decent paycheck.

“It’s pretty darn cool,” says Dawn McCartney, VP of SIA’s Contingent Workforce Strategies Council. “It’s fun and also changes all the time.”

But 10-plus years ago this wasn’t even a career. “It was almost like you pulled the short straw,” she says. “Companies realized somebody had to manage these folks.”

The Big Push

The first push to focus on contingent management came following the 1996 “permatemp” case filed against Microsoft Corp., in which long-term temps sued for benefits after an IRS audit determined they had been misclassified. Microsoft in 2000 agreed to pay a whopping $97 million to settle the federal lawsuit. The company had more than 40,000 employees at the time, about 5,000 of them classified as “contingency workers,” the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.

The case caused other companies and organizations throughout the country to review their policies and make changes to mitigate risk.

The Microsoft case was a negative but also a positive, according to SIA’s McCartney. “It’s the reason a lot of us have a career,” she says. “We’d be foolish not to say that.”

Charlie Flocco, senior manager, non-associate labor management at Capital One Services, also cites the case as a catalyst for the role. He joined the diversified banking company’s procurement department in 2000 and led the team that developed its CW program; the timing happened to coincide with the Microsoft case.

“At the same time that we were looking at the spend, legal was looking at the risk and it just came together well,” he explains.

Expanding Role

In the 20 years since, Flocco has seen the CW manager role expand into more than just an afterthought.

“I think it’s a more professional role,” he says. “I think it’s shifting more from thinking about saving money in the procurement aspect of it to people thinking more about the talent aspect of labor.”

And while cost is important, it is not the most important thing. “The most important thing is getting the right talent in the door that can do the job quickly and efficiently,” according to Flocco, “because if you can’t find people, it directly impacts the business’s ability to do what they do — which is meet their business goals.”

The need to find the right talent at the right time, and also control cost and risk, has developed the CW manager role into a full-time, strategic career position.

SIA research found that in 2004, only 16% of CW workforce program managers spent a majority of their time focused on contingent workforces; by 2019, that had increased to 79%, with 45% spending 100% of their time focused on CW management.

Endless Opportunities

The pace of change has been rapid in the industry. Statement-of-work, direct sourcing, independent contractor compliance, remote team management, technology advancements and more are just some of the strategies and issues contingent managers are now focusing on.

“For folks now that make this a career, the opportunities are endless,” McCartney says.

Next week’s CWS 3.0 newsletter will take a deeper look at some of the opportunities that have emerged in the past several years and the skills CW managers will need going forward.