The Growth of the Modern Independent Workforce
A look at the trends that are defining the new norm
Employment has traditionally required a singular focus on one position, with one employer. The currents are changing, however. The 21st century is altering the faces and places of employment, nurturing a breed who constitute a growing proportion of the global workforce. Independents. Freelancers. Contingents. Work-from-homes. 1099's. Moonlighters. Whichever label they adopt, they're on their way to becoming the majority.
The rise of the independent worker
According to this research commissioned by the Freelancer's Union, the shift toward the independent sector has been slowly but surely underway for decades. The study ranks the significance of this change as on par with the Industrial Revolution. Over 50 million Americans are taking on a freelance lifestyle and working free of the typical 9 to 5 job. This means that close to 1 in 3 of employed US workers could be classified as a freelancer, and these professionals add $715 billion to the U.S. economy every year.
The independent mindset
In the past, not pursuing a typical 5-day work week was frowned upon. Red flags were raised about employability or the desire to work at all. The stereotype is changing, but it still takes a particular courage and hustle to choose the freelance route. Would you work in a sector where there's no such thing as a minimum wage and no traditional work-related benefits?
The independent work route also deals with another stereotype; the idea of a work-from-home job that isn't all that stressful. The reality is quite different. Freelancing is a rapidly growing sector, and as such has price transparency and serious competition among those looking for work. This means winners and losers resemble any other employment model.
It also means that a prospective freelancer can take on work for many different employers. The main reason freelancers choose to go independent is to obtain a secondary (or tertiary) source of income. The other motivating factor is their ability to flexibly manage their time and retain a degree of independence.
The diversity of this demographic
Freelancers are a highly diverse group of individuals operating in many locations at varying levels of work intensity. They run the spectrum of age, gender and social status. Some freelancers have a full-time job that's being supplemented by independent work. Others may work multiple jobs of limited hours and freelance in their spare time. As a flexibly scheduled financial supplement, the independent workplace is tailor-made for those juggling family, educational, or personal responsibilities.
Technology enables everything
The freelance market is growing along with technology. As more and more retail stores close up physical shop and move into the infinite showroom of cyberspace, a brick and mortar office is looking increasingly less necessary as the future arrives. Work-from-home jobs (and the sites that offer them) are numerous, offering independent opportunities in nearly every sector, from social media management to medicine. Even the liberating term “work from home” is limited. Freelancers can be found in coffee shops, parks and beside us in transit. If you're taking an Uber, then your driver is part of this independent workforce. Within the next seven years, it’s projected that online independent work platforms could boost global GDP by trillions of dollars and create as many as 72 million new jobs.
The future means further freedom for freelancers
At the heart of it all, technology is the mother of this employment reinvention. This staggering chart reveals the pace at which tech is advancing. Everything (everything) is moving away from traditional static models into fluid and organic forms. The only thing that may solidify in the freelance market is the an infrastructure to fix minimum rates, secure benefits, and create some sense of professional unity among those in the field.
Traditional jobs are on the wane and whether or not it's a choice for them, millions more people are set to step into the waters of an independent workforce. Employment is undergoing a revolution, and the independents are evolving to adapt, survive, and thrive in this brave new world.
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