Independent worker

We often talk about the importance of keeping skills and contacts not just up to date but refined in order to position yourself to stay ahead of the curve in this difficult and ever changing economy. One of our ongoing recommendations is to start your own online endeavor. The following article discusses the fact that whether we like it or not, if we are to reach our retirement goals we must consider the increasing trend of the independent worker.

The Continued Growth of the Independent Worker
By Bill Ryan

Among the workforce phenomena already underway prior to the recession, but which has picked up pace since is the increasing role of independent workers. These soloists are typically defined as part or full time workers who don’t violate the employee defining guidelines set by various state labor, revenue, and employment security departments. They are called by a variety of names, such as independent contractors, consultants, freelancers, self-employed, temporary, on-call workers, and even solopreneures. Whatever you call them their ranks are growing.

In September MBO Partners, a service provider for independent workers and companies that hire them, released their second annual “State of Independence in America” survey. What they found was that the trend toward project or portfolio work was increasing across all demographic cohorts of today’s workforce. Conditions appear to be coalescing that allow for growth in this non-traditional employment sector. My own speculation is that the combination of more workers accepting, perhaps begrudgingly, the new normal of an uncertain economic environment both domestically and globally in combination with affordable technology improvements is allowing for
expansion of independent contracting.

Time will tell if independent contracting is a sustainable, non-cyclical, and viable career option, but this survey reveals some interesting points of transition within a population historically used to finding economic security by way of a single employer. Nearly 17 million workers operate as independents currently, up 1 million from last year. Projections are that 23 million will be their own boss in 5 years. And the number of independents who claim satisfaction and reduced anxiety with this career choice is also growing. Many in fact intend to hire on employees as resources allow, suggesting that independent contracting may be a gateway to larger entrepreneurial ventures.

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The GenXers, those aged 33 to 49, seem to embrace this concept the most out of the demographic groups measured. Given their relative vitality coupled with some years of actual work experience they are more open to taking control of their career and lifestyle destinies, certainly more so than their employer-loyal parents. Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively the Gen Y (aged 21-32) workers appear to have a more mixed view of independent working, at least for now. The difficulty they have been facing in recent years entering the workforce and gaining valuable work experience may be skewing their attitude. After all, independence may not be a choice for them, but simply their school-of-hard-knocks reality.

Many Boomers (aged 50-66) on the other hand have their own reasons for resisting migration to this level of work autonomy. In short, they weren’t brought up this way. Rather, dedication to an employer who in turn provided economic security has been their norm. But increasingly this generation too is seeing the benefits of more self-reliance and determination as evidenced in the survey. Increased flexibility, less workplace politics, more control over scheduling, and greater opportunities to practice their individual skill sets on their terms is being seen as attractive.

I see significant advantages for our collective careers in encouraging individual economic independence. Although it may never and perhaps should not ever entirely replace the traditional employer-employee relationship there is nevertheless value in workers adopting a more flexible and adaptable economic position within the general workforce. Maybe we could start preparing our youth by insisting that our schools replace some of their course load, which is of marginal importance for the mainstream, like algebra and medieval history, with financial literacy and entrepreneurism. And Boomers, accept it. You are being ejected from the traditional workforce sooner than you expected. Your choice is becoming the pasture or carving a niche that matters to the marketplace.

Change is only going to become more exponential, not less. Preparing yourself for independent contracting may be the best way to position your career for it.

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