CWS 3.0: December 5, 2012


I Say Contingent, You Say What?

Contingent workforce managers often struggle when it comes to terminology describing temporary work and workers. And this becomes even more crucial as programs go global.

Take Canada, for instance. Currently, Canadians are putting their own spin on the contingent worker lexicon. They are labeling the work rather than the workers themselves.

One third of Canadians are in “non-standard work” arrangements according to the Commission for Labour Co-operation, those being:

  • Part-time or casual status, including multi jobs
  • Temporary or contract
  • Self-employment

These work arrangements are in response to the changing marketplace. There are numerous “new jobs” but they are largely short-term, lasting one year or less. While some Canadians are voluntarily making this shift, the larger segment is forced to because no better employment opportunities are available.

There are also those who are creating their own innovative work opportunities and employment solutions, choosing self-employment in response to the constant risk of restructuring and downsizing. Although traditional, full-time roles may be identified, they bring their own set of challenges. Multiple experiences of redundancy/layoffs, for whatever reason, can eventually make a person rethink the whole employment value proposition.

These multi part-time roles have become the new full-time equivalent. This new dynamic brings with it a whole new set of issues but has also added an element of complexity to the CW lexicon.

In fact, one of the major challenges for contingent workforce managers is ensuring that a common language is used when conducting business. Lack of common definitions can cause communication issues between program managers and suppliers (even when they speak the same language) or when benchmarking contingent workforce programs across organizations. To help alleviate the issue, Staffing Industry Analysts created a set of working definitions for contingent workforce management (PDF). 

Liz Harper is a senior associate with Brightfield Strategies LLC (, which helps Fortune 500 companies with contingent workforce strategy initiatives. She can be reached at


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