The nature of work is undergoing a huge transformation. Demand for many kinds of services fluctuates. Having a permanent workforce with considerable periods of underutilisation is no longer viewed as economically viable.

At the same time, organisations need to work out how they will engage their employees to make the most of their processes, technology, and other breakthrough tools in the new world of working. And that’s a challenge they should address, sooner rather than later.

Students, who are the workforce of the future, are looking for ways to acquire meaningful work experience and develop new skills that will make them more marketable in today’s dynamic employment market. Accordingly, universities also need to find ways to meet students’ needs by differentiating their specialisations and course offerings.

All of these developments converged in a challenge facing Accenture. It needed to provide its clients with contract-related commercial services in Australia and New Zealand. While these services were being provided from offshore centres in India and Europe, it was proving hard to manage the contract review and formatting processes at an acceptable level of cost and to meet the requirement to turn work around fast enough.

The type of work did not justify retaining an external law firm or having full-time experienced legal contractors. A new approach was required to engage high quality resources on a flexible work arrangement, without any full-time contractual commitments.

What Accenture did

Accenture identified a group that was best positioned to review these commercial contracts: law students.

They could be the flexible bench of resources required and held the right skills to perform the work. The question was, which university would be willing to team up with Accenture and build this solution?

The James Cook University (JCU) in North Queensland Australia turned out to be a perfect match. The Law school was enthusiastic about the possibilities, and already knew Accenture through its participation in the University Procurement Hub.

Each student was provided with an Accenture laptop and limited access to the Accenture network. A WhatsApp notification informed students of the work queue, and students were able to use basic Office suite tools like Microsoft Word along with a secure Accenture email address for receiving and sending completed contracts.

"The students were required to work in an innovative way to recommend solutions to the Accenture team on a broad range of commercial issues."

— MANDY SHIRCORE, Associate Professor – College of Business, Law and Governance

People and culture

Working with JCU and its students, Accenture developed a proof of concept (PoC) for providing the legal services it needed and, in the process, produced a three-way win for all parties:

  • The students were able to acquire hands-on work experience and put their skills into practice alongside their legal studies. They also had the chance to earn some extra income.
  • JCU was able to offer something different to prospective students that helped them stand out. The PoC also afforded an innovative way to give students academic credit for their work through a Workplace Integrated Learning module.

The PoC proved that working with different labour sources and models could open up a number of collaborative ideas across the corporate and academic worlds to produce optimal outcomes. Accenture was able to offer its clients an agile service that can be scaled up and down as demand increases or tapers away. Clients also get benefits from the resulting cost advantages.

Value delivered

The potential of this proof of concept is very exciting: as a platform for microservices that could be rolled out to meet the needs of many different organisations and clients who will increasingly be looking for ways to plug skill gaps quickly and flexibly.

The ability to effectively manage a new type of ‘liquid’ workforce that can provide key skills as and when needed is going to become crucial in the new world of work. And it’s particularly relevant when dealing with fluctuations in demand during periods of economic flux, such as the one caused by COVID, allowing organisations to flex their talent pools up or down instantly.

Using a platform approach similar to the work that Accenture and JCU have achieved, it offers an ideal way to ‘test the waters’ of managing an adaptative workforce.

This approach also meets the needs of the next generation of professionals who are interested in finding more adaptable ways to integrate their working lives with other commitments and interests. As part of an on-demand workforce they can work to suit their own needs and build a portfolio of flexible engagements. What’s more, as the work is carried out and delivered remotely, individuals can be located anywhere they like.

Student feedback:

"The highlight was being a part of an organisational culture that encourages people to thrive. I was constantly supported and helped to develop my professional and legal skills."

"The experience gave me practical work experience within a commercial setting – all while maintaining the freedom and flexibility of an independent contractor."

"The team at Accenture provided extensive training and feedback to ensure I was not only learning, but also making valuable contributions."

"I gained valuable experience and insight into how legal advice is provided within a large corporation."

"The JCU-Accenture pilot program has allowed me to develop some very practical skills as a law student."

The JCU proof of concept offers a glimpse of the future working world. The verdict? It’s a winning proposition for everyone.

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