Much has been written about the gig economy--a future in which traditional full-time jobs are displaced by mostly short-term contracts or freelance work. But whether or not the rise of freelancing will be a bad or good thing is certainly debatable. The New York Times recently published an op-ed piece titled "The Gig Economy's False Promise," while a Wired headline reads "The Gig Economy: The Force That Could Save the American Worker?" Regardless of your feelings on the subject, plenty of evidence points to a future workforce which looks much different than it does today. That's according to Stephen DeWitt, CEO of Work Market, an enterprise-class platform for the management of contract and freelance talent. Here are his thoughts about why freelancing will touch nearly everyone in the years to come, whether you're looking for help, or getting hired yourself.
1. Many crystal balls are showing the gig economy to be a real thing.
More than 55 million people--about 35 percent of the U.S. workforce--did some kind of freelance work last year. Experts agree this number will only continue to climb. According to the Intuit 2020 Report (PDF) in just a few years traditional employment will no longer be the status quo. More than 80 percent of large companies say they will be significantly increasing their use of flexible workers. And, the number of contingent workers--freelancers, temps, part-time workers and contractors--will exceed 40 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2020.
2. Companies are trying to solve for inefficiencies and labor spend.
It's because technology advancements and consumer behaviors are accelerating. Now more than ever, it is critical for businesses to keep an agile workforce at the ready to compete in the face of digital disruption, and quickly execute powerful, unforeseen opportunities in real time. But, if a company hires 100 people who are only utilized 50 percent of the time, it's a 50 percent waste in labor. "It's like how the cloud completely transformed the way we buy networking and storage," DeWitt says. "We used to buy a server and saw it was only 50 percent used. It took companies like Amazon to turn that into something they could sell."
3. A world in which freelancers have benefits is entirely possible.
Currently, a lack of affordable health insurance means even full-time employees are paying more for--or going without--health insurance. And while freelancers have traditionally been on the hook for their own medical, dental and retirement plans, in the future these on-demand workers could have more choices. What if benefits for freelancers were funded similarly to how invisible taxes at the fuel pump pay for road construction? "Our current labor system is so outrageously inefficient, both in terms of the market as well as policy, that the elimination of a lot of that inefficiency makes the system capable of investing into the social safety net," he says. "In a world with the right policy that is more automated and efficient, with a significant reduction in middle-men, it would be very easy to tax every transaction in a freelancer dynamic." Ideally, he says, workers could access such revenue from a savings account for benefits, with employers also paying into the pot.
4. Getting work as a freelancer is dead simple.
Cloud-based platforms which connect freelancers with clients are widely available and inexpensive to use. "Every business will have access to every worker and it will be only separated by search.," he says. "The middle operators that have historically defined how the workforce is accessed are going away."
5. Millennials, the largest living generation, want flexibility.
They may engage on a full-time basis, on a six-month project, for an hour, or for a five-minute gig. These are people who have grown up with a smartphone within reach at all times. They crave immediacy, novelty and connection. Working at a company for a decade is something none of them will likely be doing. "When Millennials think about their careers the expectations are so much greater in terms of the experience, the automation, the data that's at their fingertips," he says. "Anything other than that is frustrating."