You're sitting across the table from an amazingly gifted programmer.
Sure, she just graduated from college and completed a yearlong internship, but she knows several web development languages like Joomla and Java, and she's eager to get started on a new project. You scan through a portfolio of sites she created. Great work!
The "interview" progresses nicely, and you feel pretty confident about her skill level. "Can you start tomorrow?" you ask. No need to include HR in this decision, at least for now. Your new "hire" plans to work for free, joining a staff of ten volunteers. In fact, most of your social media staff, marketing folks, and programmers all work for free.
Seems far-fetched or even impossible?
Don't discount it so fast.
Welcome to the new reality of work, where younger college grads, Gen Z workers, and Millennials looking for experience are willing to join your team and work for free.
They gain a ton of experience and learn the ropes. You gain capable workers who are not technically employed by your firm. Feel free to debate how this works given the fact that an unpaid volunteer could be considered an employee in terms of insurance and other factors, but if it works for Microsoft and others, it can work for you.
Recently, the software giant replaced a team of Xbox support personnel and decided to "employ" a group of Xbox Ambassadors instead, folks who are just really into the gaming console. They provide support on social media and hand out prizes to people. Other companies "hire" social media ambassadors as well, workers who share content and possibly gain perks like T-shirts and other trinkets--and they take it seriously, too.
Sure, there are many other factors to consider in terms of training, when to hire the volunteers, and turnover for people who are not paid a cent. No one is going to hire volunteers at a hospital or a legal firm, right? Then again, maybe a qualified nursing grad could help with paperwork and legal aids could easily gain work experience. I'm not suggesting every field will have a huge staff of volunteers; I am suggesting that even now and definitely in the future a younger workforce will join your company and won't ask for any pay or benefits, at least on a short-term basis of maybe one year.
How you prepare for this workforce will be key. There's a different way to train someone who plans to work for free--it's more robust training for sure. You have to treat volunteers differently--more positive feedback, less criticism. It's a different model.
That said, I've already heard of some companies who are embracing the approach, and figuring out how it all works. Many of the volunteers start out as remote workers, and in some ways this is a glorified version of an unpaid internship. However, it has some serious benefits for the hiring firm. One is that these volunteers are actually easier to manage. Since they are hungry and eager to gain experience, and know they are not paid, they want to try new things and are willing to take lesser roles. They won't constantly bug you about a pay raise, either. You go into the arrangement with them as purely a way for them to gain experience, and you can end the arrangement quickly and easily.
Again, you can question how it will work, but the underlying issue here is that Gen Z and Millennials are having a hard time finding jobs, and the ones who are the most determined will take on projects for nothing--possibly on a part-time basis. They know there are no benefits, and no pay. Yet, they can still list the work as legitimate on a resume, a stepping stone to a career. In the end, it's a symbiotic relationship.
Do you think the volunteer staff model can work? Have you seen it firsthand? I'm interested to hear your point of view, so post on my Twitter feed if you have an opinion.