A Master-builder’s Handbook to a Contingent Worker’s Career

Shulagna Dasgupta
Nov 25, 2019 · 8 min read

My recent career move has doubled my commute. Some days, I breeze through the 1.5–2.5 hours. I listen to podcasts, speak with family and friends, sing along my favorite songs or just reflect on happy thoughts and smile. Some days though, it gets a little hard to smile. It’s like I’ve suddenly developed claustrophobia and bed sores from sitting in my car that long. One such evening I walked in home around 7:00 PM, worried that I hadn’t done any dinner prep. The living room was dimly lit. Alexa was playing child-friendly versions of the Global Top 50. I could smell the cute scent of kids’ shampoo. I’m home, I smiled to myself. I was starting to take a breath and wind down until I saw the absolute last thing I wanted to deal with. My 7 year old had turned his entire lego trunk upside down in the middle of our living room. He sat in the midst of a 5 x 4 foot pile of lego pieces. Some rogue ones had gone dangerously close to getting pushed under the couch, the media console and worst of all — the rug itself. This was disturbing at multiple levels. Why does he need to turn the trunk upside down every time? Why is he constantly spreading the pieces out even more? Why are there so many half-built models all over? Why doesn’t he actually follow the instructions to build a model? Why does he mix the pieces from different kits? They come boxed and labeled for a reason! And worst of all, why does this all have to happen on a Tuesday night? I stood there staring at him trying to decide which of these lines of thinking I should talk to him about first. “Oh hi Mamma, how was your day?”, he ran towards me to give me a hug and with his fleece pajamas came colorful little plastic swords, character heads, connectors and others. And now, they were in the kitchen too.

What ensued was five mins of the standard saga — please clean-up, please mamma, no — right now, teary eyes, your brother will help, why do I have to, we help each other, you missed a piece here and so on. There was just one thing that was different. My son was visibly sad. This wasn’t just disappointment; something had bothered him. I knew I needed to go talk to him once the dust settled.

Over dinner and dishes I went from being a tired mom to an empathetic listener. I knew what I did tonight would have an impact on both of us. But as I walked into his room, little did I know how much he would teach me in a little 15 minute conversation. I reflected on it for weeks. Below is a an account of how his unconventional thinking inspired me at work and in life.

  1. Why do you need to turn the trunk upside down?
    “Because I need to know at all times what pieces I have to work with. I cannot get new ideas if pieces are hidden in the trunk”.

I couldn’t disagree at all. He explained his point with a compelling example of the ghost rocket-ship — how would he know he could turn a regular rocket ship into a ghost rocket-ship if he hadn’t spotted the skull flag from the pirate lego set? I got it instantly and I started to wonder how profound his point was. Isn’t it true also of our professional journeys? Don’t we often forget who we’ve been, what skills we’ve built and how mixing and matching different parts of us could create opportunities we haven’t yet considered? We tend to only recall our current status and the skills we’ve been utilizing most recently. But hidden in our past could be little gems that could completely change our game. A mom returning to work completely discounts her experience serving on the PTA. But does she know hidden in her trunk is sales acumen from fundraising, collaboration from bringing the team together, leadership from addressing the parent community and business development from ordering school merchandize? Can you imagine how powerful it would be if she could just have visibility to all of her skills, at all times — including the ones she doesn’t realize she possesses? We could all then negotiate roles that best fit our full potential, not try to fit into roles that perhaps weren’t meant for us.

Lesson 1: Easy recall of all of our skills so we tap into our full potential

2. Why do you constantly spread the pieces out even more?
“Because I always need to know what I don’t have. You know how Ironman’s suit starts beeping when he’s running low on something, I don’t want that. I want to know if I’m missing wings before I build a glider.”

This was starting to get really interesting. In my head, I started applying his logic to what I’m pursuing at work — establishing the use of a talent intelligence platform to the contingent workforce. In our careers as full-time employees we’ve had competency models, self-assessments, 360° feedback and certification tests to give us some idea of what we are missing. While I don’t necessarily agree that these sources are accurate and unbiased, at least they exist. As we move into an era where 50% of the workforce will be contingent, how do we provide that real-time insight to the individual? Who will tell them what they are missing in order to make it to their next milestone? Or what skills will be hot in their field that they need to consider developing? It is not buyers, given co-employment considerations and the short term engagement. It isn’t MSPs, for the same reasons. Several talent suppliers are trying, but there are a number of workers that don’t go through suppliers. I’m with my kid on this one — the accountability to reflect has to be with the individual themselves. It would be so empowering if contingent workers were armed with real-time insights on what they need to develop in order to best contribute to a role, an employer, a career path, or even their county’s future-of-work goals (Plus it’s much better to read and reflect than be told by a boss what you’re not doing right!). This data, combined with an appropriate investment in a great career coach/mentor, would totally put a them in the driver’s seat.

Lesson 2: Real-time, data driven reflection of our development opportunities

3. Why do you have so many half built models?
I’m into transformers these days. For example, I’m trying to build a car that can turn into a boat when required with the right attachments.”

I love transformers too and how they evolve with a high degree of predictability. Several organizations have now invested in career path programs for their full time employees’ ‘transformer’ journeys. It creates clarity in goals and precision in development programs. So how does this work for a contingent worker? Could there be a future where they too could proactively build and pursue their personalized career path — but across companies? Talent suppliers have enough data on open positions and skills to be able to leverage AI-based solutions to create very compelling personalized ‘transformer’ journeys for contingent workers. It would also create more ‘stickiness’ between the supplier and the worker. Now imagine, what if governments also played a role in this? Several governments are articulating key skills and jobs that will be critical to meeting the nation’s growth objectives. What if they partnered with the right ecosystem of players to pepper in the targeted skills and roles to guide individual trajectories? I think the lego pieces to make that a reality already exist, they just need to be connected.

Lesson 3: Ability to architect a compelling career path — across companies

4. Why don’t you follow the instructions and why do you mix up pieces from different kits?
“I’ve built a lot of models following instructions. They have a pattern. That’s fun, but not as much as being a master-builder”.

Alright, tell me more. He explained if he built out a whole kit, he was never left with loose parts to explore. He wanted to do more with the pieces than what the kit prescribed. And if he had parts from many kits, he could let his imagination run free. Finally, he also felt impatient sitting for hours, going page after page building one big thing. Instead, he liked building smaller innovative models he could build and play with the same day. I realized he’s a master-builder by choice and he owns it. He’s perfectly alright being different from most other kids and taking this unconventional approach. I needed to celebrate it too and definitely not fall in the trap of thinking he’s incapable of following instructions on a boxed-kit. In my past few months as a newcomer to the contingent workforce industry, this is one observation that has saddened me the most. The perception that the worker has chosen this path because they cannot get a full time job, and therefore they’re less capable. It couldn’t be further from the truth. The contingent workforce I see is one that’s bursting with potential. It’s expertise, it’s innovation, it’s energy, it’s diversity, and most of all it’s honoring our life rhythms. Contingent workers contribute to many more businesses through their career, just like my son’s approach of mixing up lego kits to make something larger. The choice to be a contingent worker and embrace the flexibility is only going to become more prevalent. We are going from about 30% of the workforce being contingent in 2015 to about 50% in the next couple of years.

Lesson 4: Awareness that being a contingent worker is a choice, not a necessity

I’m excited for a future where the true potential of the growing contingent workforce will be unleashed. Fantastic master-builders (aka contingent workers) will have access to real-time insights on their skills and opportunities, have a clear view of their career path, and their ‘transformer’ journey will be much more democratized. I feel fortunate to be a small part of this adventure, as the company I work for views this as a priority that is central to our mission. There are several products in the market today that aim to make the contingent worker hiring cycle more efficient but what my coworkers and I are after is balancing that priority while keeping the worker’s experience and journey at the core. I’m excited we are starting to run into progressive partners and clients that believe in the same future.

There is one question, though, that often crosses my mind — who is eventually accountable for investing in the development of the growing contingent workforce? The future I describe above feels promising, but who should be responsible for getting these insights in the hands of each individual or driving learning programs for them? The answer today is probably a grey area between talent suppliers, governments and ofcourse, the individual. I look forward to seeing how it will all unfold.

You’re probably wondering how overactive my imagination is to find parallels between my kid’s lego adventures and my professional reflections. Perhaps I’m a master-builder of my own kind that I find more insight in little things of life than just facts and data. Thank you for playing along. In case you’re wondering what our living room looks like these days, we have retired the old lego trunk. We have transitioned to several smaller, transparent boxes. I don’t walk in home to a disaster zone of lego but I’m often woken up on weekends by the noise of little boxes of lego being shaken passionately in search of just the right piece. My master-builder at work.

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Shulagna Dasgupta

Written by

Bringing a beginner’s mindset to work, people-tech and our evolving workforce

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +799K followers.

Shulagna Dasgupta

Written by

Bringing a beginner’s mindset to work, people-tech and our evolving workforce

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +799K followers.

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