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Growth of external workforce brings new tech, new concerns for HR

The growth of the external workforce may be getting ahead of HR's ability to manage it. That raises security issues, including determining whether workers are who they say they are.

LAS VEGAS -- The external workforce is rising, and with it comes management problems for HR. There is no firm estimate on the size of the external workforce, but it is increasing.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) includes contract workers, gig workers and freelancers in its definition of external workers. This broad interpretation is an effort to "wrap our arms around what is a growing segment of our economy," said Alexander Alonso, chief knowledge officer at SHRM, based in Alexandria, Va.

The HR association estimated the size of the external workforce is around 30 million and believes it is growing by as much as 10% a year, Alonso said at the association's annual conference

SHRM released a study on Monday showing that 20% -- or one in five -- of external workers prefer this type of work. Their reasons include a freedom to set their own schedules and work from any location. But about 45% said they didn't have strong opinions about external work. And 20% said they prefer internal work, or a job as an employee.

External workers pose management issues 

Managing this workforce is creating a separate set of issues for HR.

"Companies are still struggling with visibility of how many external workers they have, what systems they have access to, what badge access and security they have," said  Autumn Krauss, principal scientist for the human capital management research team at SAP SuccessFactors. She is working with SHRM on its external workforce research.

"The growth of the workforce has gotten ahead of a lot of companies' practices when it comes to security and knowing where they have access and how they should have access," Krauss said.

This problem is also creating opportunity for vendors.

The selfie as verification

Sterling, a firm whose services include background investigations, just released a new AI-enabled service intended to assure identity before a background investigation begins.

Its VerifyID program authenticates government documents and can determine whether a selfie isn't a photo of someone else.

"The intent here is to make sure that the individual is the actual individual," said Taylor Liggett, vice president of business development at SureID, a subsidiary of Sterling.

The technology looks for discrepancies in government documents, such as a driver's license. The more interesting element of this approach involves facial recognition, which will compare a selfie with the image on an official document. But if an applicant submits a short video selfie, about 10 seconds in length, the system can do a more sophisticated analysis, called liveness detection, of the image on the video clip.

"We believe the AI for doing facial comparison is as good or as reliable as a human doing the actual facial comparison," said Chris Evans, SureID's vice president of product and technology.

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