The future is freelance. That’s according to the “Freelancing in America: 2017” study, commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union. The fourth annual study of the U.S. independent workforce found that freelance work is alive, thriving, and growing among skilled professionals.
Among the study’s most notable findings are that:
- The U.S. freelance workforce is growing faster than the overall U.S. workforce, outpacing U.S. workforce growth at a rate 3x faster since 2014. It numbered 53 million in 2014 and grew to 57.3 million this year (8.1% growth since 2014) while the U.S. workforce grew from 156 million to 160 million in the same timeframe (2.6% growth).
- At the current growth rate, freelancers will represent the majority of the U.S. workforce by 2027. This pace may be accelerated if the younger generation entering the workforce pursue freelance arrangements more frequently than older workers.
- 54% of the U.S. workforce is not very confident that the work they do today is likely to exist in 20 years, owing in large part to automation and other technology-driven trends shaping the workforce as a whole.
Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork and co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Council on the Future of Gender, Education and Work, reflects on this systemic change, stating, “We are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution — a period of rapid change in work driven by increasing automation, but we have a unique opportunity to guide the future of work and freelancers will play more of a key role than people realize.”
Growing companies may not be as directly affected by these trends as independent workers themselves. But for companies of all sizes, these shifts — both what they say about the perspective of workers and about the opportunities they create to tap into new talent — deserve examination.
How Freelancing Trends Reflect Employee Attitudes
Interestingly, more workers are embarking on freelance careers out of choice than ever before.
According to the report, 63% of freelancers surveyed said they started freelancing more by choice, rather than more due to downsizing or other circumstantial changes making it a necessity — up 10 points from 53% since 2014.
One of the factors influencing this trend is the perceived stability of freelancing. Increasingly, freelancers view having a diversified portfolio of clients as being more secure than relying on a single employer (63% agree, up 10 points since 2016). Overall, the top drivers motivating people to start freelancing include the desire:
- To be their own boss
- To choose when they work
- To choose their own projects
- To choose where they work
- To earn extra money
HOW COMPANIES SHOULD RESPOND
On the surface, companies may seem somewhat removed from the freelance marketplace — those that don’t currently contract with independent workers may seem especially unaffected by trends in either direction.
This isn’t the case. Companies of all sizes need to consider: