The Revolutionary War Provides Inspiration for Enlisting Today’s Frontline COVID-19 Fighters

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Seeking to inoculate their citizens against COVID-19, President Joe Biden and other world leaders have embarked on one of the most ambitious public health campaigns in history. The effort to distribute the coronavirus vaccine poses formidable logistical challenges, yet the task is not without precedent. For inspiration, health officials can turn to one of Mr. Biden’s predecessors, George Washington, who successfully addressed an earlier viral outbreak by enlisting the talents of the contingent workforce.

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Before he could prevail against the British, George Washington first needed to defeat a stealthier foe: smallpox. Having survived the virus as a teenager, the future president understood that, left unchecked, the spread of infection could doom his war effort before it began. Yet inoculation meant exposing his troops to a milder form of the virus and then quarantining to recover. In 1775, General Washington ordered the procedure for all Continental Army troops whose lack of immunity from prior infection rendered them vulnerable. This was to be done in secrecy to avoid alerting the British to the temporary removal of large numbers of soldiers from the front lines. To administer the program, the army relied on nurses, who were all contingent workers, and staff physicians. Ultimately General Washington’s inoculation campaign proved successful, with many historians crediting it as decisive toward achieving victory.

Centuries later, of course, another contagion threatens us – and this time its reach is worldwide. In our efforts to eradicate COVID-19, we would do well to draw lessons from Washington’s leadership – not only in the urgency of his response but his strategic employment of contingent workers to move with agility and flexibility.

Long before the COVID-19 crisis emerged, the health care industry has relied on skilled professionals from the ranks of the external workforce – mostly independent contractors and contingent labor – to maintain consistently high levels of quality in emergency rooms, intensive care units, rural clinics and emergency medical services. COVID-19 has only heightened the need for these essential workers, as well as the need to vaccinate against it. From manufacturing the vaccines to injecting them in patients, from transporting medicine where needed to ensuring they remain at sufficiently cold temperatures, contingent workers are critical at every juncture.

Among the reasons the external workforce becomes so crucial in combating COVID-19 is that, though rates of infection rise and fall, alternating in severity from region to region, the need for countermeasures is universal. Demand for vaccination is high everywhere, leaving traditional workers struggling to meet it. Yet contingent workers represent only part of the solution. To be successful, the complex logistics behind a global public health effort require visibility from cloud-based technologies to coordinate the mass production, distribution and administration of vaccines.

A cloud-based vendor management system lends organizations the visibility needed to glean maximum value from the external workforce, including contingent labor and independent contractors. Without transparency across all the different types of workers whose skills contribute to customer success, organizations fall short of realizing the breadth and fullness of their capabilities. This holds true in nearly every economic climate, but particularly now. For example, at SAP Fieldglass, the leading external workforce management solutions provider has observed a 16% increase year-over-year in the hiring of contingent health care workers since the onset of the COVID crisis, despite a 14% drop in demand for external workers across industries in the same period. Appropriately monitoring and managing the contingent health care workforce is essential to addressing the ongoing challenges related to COVID-19.

Cloud-based solutions to help manage the external workforce can hasten the virus’ eventual defeat, particularly as organizations ramp up the production, distribution and administration of vaccines. While some parts of the world have approached these tasks with alacrity, others have fallen embarrassingly short. Now is the hour for governments and industry alike to call upon the prodigious talents of the contingent workforce – and to manage them to maximum efficiency through the visibility made possible by cloud-based digital technologies.

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