Midst Inflation Pressures and Recession Fears, Data Reveals What Skills Will Drive Growth and Mitigate Risk 

In its latest report, Business Talent Group reveals how high-end independent talent is helping business leaders pursue growth amid increasing risk, harness advances in data science and technology, and adapt their workforces, processes, and financial practices for an uncertain business environment ahead.

September 28, 2022 – Companies today are facing a business landscape that offers significant opportunities for growth and innovation fueled by drastic changes in consumer demand, rapid technological advancement, and the widespread adoption of hybrid work. Yet new concerns have emerged— from the extraordinarily tight labor market to rapidly rising inflation to geopolitical tensions that stress not only supply chains and global operations, but also the well-being of workers worldwide. The result has been a notable shift in who is carrying much of the work being done, according to a new report from the Business Talent Group (BTG).

“Five years ago, we began reporting on project and skill needs driving the use of high-end independent talent at top companies,” said Jody Greenstone Miller, co-founder and co-CEO of Business Talent Group. “Since that time, we’ve witnessed both a massive influx of top talent choosing the independent path and a fast-growing understanding among business leaders of how to best use this highly skilled talent segment. Today, high-end independent talent has become a core pillar in the talent strategies of leading enterprises—offering an indispensable source of in-demand skills that are simply inaccessible in the broader labor market.”

In this fifth annual examination of proprietary BTG data on thousands of projects by Fortune 1000 companies and global equivalents, private equity firms, and non-profits, Business Talent Group reveals how high-end independent talent is helping business leaders pursue growth amid increasing risk, harness advances in data science and technology, and adapt their workforces, processes, and financial practices for the uncertain business environment ahead. The report comes as 59 percent of CEOs say the labor and skills shortage remains a top disruptor for their businesses, according to a recent Fortune/Deloitte study. Additionally, 55 percent of executives say they are concerned about the difficulty of hiring the right talent at the right price quickly enough, according to Mercer.

Growth in a Risky World

Long considered sweet spot capabilities for high-end independent talent, market landscape and research and growth strategy are again on this year’s list of the most in-demand skills (as the No. 3 and  No. 7 most in-demand skills, respectively). But with the number of requests for experts in risk management rising by 200 percent year over year, the BTG report notes that many business leaders find themselves in a “best of times/worst of times” scenario—balancing optimism about their companies’ prospects for continued growth with concern that key initiatives could be derailed by any number of economic, geopolitical, ecological, and cybersecurity threats present in today’s extraordinary risk environment. To increase resilience and position their organizations for choppy waters ahead, many companies are also seeking independent talent skilled in cost reduction (plus-400 percent) to right-size spending throughout the organization.

Data, Data Everywhere

Companies are increasingly seeking independent talent skilled in artificial intelligence and machine learning (plus-500 percent, this year’s fastest growing skill), data visualization (plus-120 percent), and database architecture and management (82 percent) to help them make better use of the vast troves of data generated by business and consumer activities. The BTG report notes that with ready access to these in-demand skills that are scarcely available in the traditional labor market, companies can better capture, store, and organize their data for ready access and analysis, put actionable insights at business leaders’ fingertips, make more informed decisions, and respond faster to rapid changes in customer and consumer needs.

The Turbulent Talent Landscape

“Few organizational areas have been so greatly affected by the turbulence of the last several years as how companies resource their teams and get work done,” the BTG report said. “Amid the most competitive hiring environment in decades and a whipsaw debate about in-office vs. remote work arrangements—all against the backdrop of rising economic uncertainty—companies are seeking independent perspectives to help right-size and optimize their organizational design and workforce planning (the No. 2 most in-demand skill).” They’re also increasingly turning to experts in global human resources (plus-314 percent), compensation strategy (plus-215 percent), and benefits planning and management (plus-100 percent) to build out or scale up HR capabilities, design strategies that attract and retain top talent, and fill critical gaps in the HR org—as shown by a 400 percent year-over-year increase in requests for interim HR leaders at all levels from functional directors to CHROs.

The Increasingly Strategic Role of Finance

For the first time, two finance capabilities have climbed onto BTG’s list of the most in-demand independent talent skills. The report found that the growing need for financial controls, accounting, and audit (No. 4 most in-demand) and financial planning, analysis, and modeling (No. 5)—driven in large part by the 91 percent increase in demand for interim CFOs and other finance leaders—reflects changing demands placed upon the function as its responsibilities grow in complexity and scope. “No longer viewed simply as stewards of the company’s financial management, compliance, and reporting, finance leaders are taking an increasingly prominent role as key strategic partners to the C-suite and other stakeholders across the business,” the report said. “Accordingly, organizations are tapping independent finance talent to provide actionable insights from vast troves of data, offer early warning of risk on the horizon, and button up financial practices for the uncertain economic environment.”

Related: Retaining Your Employees During the Great Resignation

BTG’s most in-demand and fastest growing skills are as follows:

Top 10 Most In-Demand Skills for 2022

  1. Project Management
  2. Organizational Design and Workforce Planning
  3. Market Landscape and Research
  4. Financial Controls, Accounting, and Audit
  5. Financial Planning, Analysis, and Modeling
  6. Process Optimization and Transformation
  7. Growth Strategy
  8. Program Management Office (PMO)
  9. Strategic Planning
  10. Corporate and Business Unit Strategy

Top 10 Fastest Growing Skills For 2022

  1. Artificial intelligence and machine learning (plus-500 percent)
  2. Cost reduction (plus-400 percent)
  3. Global human resources (plus-314 percent)
  4. Compensation strategy (plus-215 percent)
  5. Risk management (plus-200 percent)
  6. Engagement management (plus-167 percent)
  7. Data visualization (plus-120 percent)
  8. Benefits planning and management (plus-100 percent)
  9. Database architecture and management (plus-82 percent)
  10. Product development (plus-82 percent)

Business Growth Initiatives

Currently, talent management and digital transformation are emerging as centerpieces of corporate growth strategies. PwC reports that 77 percent of executives say hiring and retaining talent will be a top growth driver in 2022, and 60 percent say the same for digital transformation. But these anticipated drivers threaten to become their own speed bumps. A recent report from McKinsey found the ongoing talent shortage to be a curtailing factor in digital acceleration efforts: “In BTG’s 2020 survey, only 10 percent of companies said they had sufficient in-house digital talent. And by this year, that figure had dropped dramatically, to only one percent.” Ringing the same alarm bell, almost half of the respondents to the PwC survey cited the talent shortage as the “biggest risk to their business achieving its growth targets.”

Weathering the Forthcoming Freeze

The risk is real, as broader labor market trends such as the Great Resignation, Boss Loss, and hybrid work vs. mandatory return to office moves further complicate the challenges of completing critical work. “While unemployment is nearly back at pre-pandemic levels, the number of available jobs far outstrips the number of available workers at a rate of 2:1,” the BTG report said. “In order to close skills gaps without increasing headcount, companies are either reskilling and redeploying existing staff or turning toward the enormous pool of highly skilled independent talent. The latter is often more efficient and effective, as there’s no time lost to training, and additional experts can be added as projects evolve and new skills gaps emerge.”

A Rise in the Demand for Risk Management Expertise

Additional risks lurk on the horizon, from cybersecurity threats and sustainability concerns to financial market turbulence and changing regulations. BTG has seen a 200 percent YOY increase in requests that are explicitly for risk management experts, making it one of the fastest growing skills for 2022.

Consider This Before Joining the Great Resignation

If you’re thinking about joining the Great Resignation and quitting your job, you’re in good company. Resignations are at a 20-year high, and depending on what study you’re reading, one-third to one-half of all U.S. workers are considering leaving their jobs right now. This record number of resignations is fueled by a range of factors, from the understanding that better pay and opportunities may be readily available, to a desire to work for an organization that is more values-aligned, to the desire to have more flexibility about when and where work is done.

Sustainability risk management, in particular, has become a top priority. Yet the “green skills gap” persists, making it even tougher to find talent in an already slim market. Across industries, BTG reports that more and more companies are seeking independent experts who can help them prepare for the impacts of climate change by assessing the environmental impacts and risk factors of their facilities and manufacturing sites. These experts possess deep experience in sustainability analysis and project management, allowing them to jump right in and accelerate foundational initiatives.

The demand for financial risk management experts is even higher. As organizations seek to get ahead of broader financial market risks, comply with increased regulations, and assess risk in consumer finance and credit, targeted expertise has become critical. Along with risk management requests, BTG has seen heightened demand for related skills in two additional financial expertise buckets: financial controls, accounting and audit; and financial planning, analysis, and modeling. Both are among the top five most in-demand skills sought from independent talent this year, largely due to a parallel demand for interim finance talent— including CFOs.

The increased risk exposure is perhaps most acutely felt by the life sciences industry, according the BTG report. “The risks involved in drug development have proliferated as quickly as perspectives on the development process have shifted,” the study said. “Here, independent experts are helping to develop frameworks for managing this risk as companies develop and roll out new therapies. They’re also able to help assess clinical trial data and determine the risks and likelihood of success for subsequent development phases.”

To read the full report click here.

Related: Hiring Top Talent in Unprecedented Times

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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