Sixty-three per cent of business leaders believe that portfolio workers will gain mainstream commercial acceptance within the next ten years.  Yet, those responsible for hiring them – in HR – are less convinced, with just 50 percent suggesting portfolio workers will be an acceptable face in business.

KPMG’s survey researched attitudes towards portfolio workers, which is a nascent form of employment most commonly seen amongst non-exec directors. Portfolio workers differ from freelancers by having contracts in place with a number of different companies simultaneously, with a guaranteed number of hours of work from all during any given period of time.

According to the survey of Executive Boards, HR directors and recent graduates, 57% of HR directors and 65% of C-suite executives said a well articulated and effective portfolio worker strategy could be a source of competitive advantage within the talent market. Just 40% of graduates agreed.

David Knight, associate partner in the P3 team at KPMG said: “There is certainly a need for organisations to be able to switch on and off their workforce in line with demand without incurring financial liability, though flex within the workforce currently isn’t easy or effective.  Combine that with a push from younger generations to work in a different way from their predecessors, and it highlights the need for better use of the workforce. Our research shows that this form of employment can become the norm in ten years time.”

Just over a third (35%) of Generation Y respondents understood the term ‘portfolio workers’ but they felt that they were simply freelancers by another name (78%), as did three quarters of the senior executives (76%) and the older respondents (74%).

“The freelance model has always been about plugging in additional capacity on an ad hoc basis and often at premium rates that are typically higher than that of permanent employees. This has the potential of creating resentment across the wider workforce. We believe a portfolio working approach is a far more commercial and socially beneficial option,” said David Knight.

For this trend to establish, HR Directors (51%) agreed that the biggest challenge is that there are not enough employers offering the portfolio worker option. Client confidentiality and fears over loss of intellectual property was also high on the list for business leaders, with 46% of the C-suite saying it was their biggest concern and 51% of HRDs saying it was second from top.

David Knight concluded: “For this system to work, employees need to be able to build up an acceptable personal portfolio of jobs meaning that a broad employer footprint is needed. Scale will be vital to moving a good idea into accepted convention. The report shows that there are genuine concerns over confidentiality and IP. Of course, sensible governance is needed in constructing the framework to enable this way of working to be established as well as a regulatory environment that balances employee safeguards with workforce innovation. The research suggests organisations are willing to take up the challenge and this could generate a snowball effect.”