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By 2020, independent workers will be the majority

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MBO Partners' Gene Zaino at Net:Work 2011Freelancers, consultants and other independent workers account for 16 million people in the country now and will become a majority by 2020, predicts Gene Zaino, the president and CEO of MBO Partners, which connects independent worker with employers. The company, which recently conducted a survey of independent workers, said that based on existing trends, there is expected to be 65 to 70 million independent workers in the next decade, comprising more than half of all employees.

He said this new era is forcing employees, employers and the government to confront a new reality as solo workers become the norm.

“These individuals — whether crowd-sourced or providing tactical solutions or finding their first project on a marketplace or providing strategic advice to client — these are the pioneers of the next era,” Zaino said at GigaOM’s Net:Work conference.

He said contrary to popular belief, most of the current independent workers (55 percent) choose this route instead of being forced into temporary work. And he said 80 percent of these workers claim they don’t want to go back. And 28 million traditionally employed workers said they want to go independent in the next two years. That might be because 50 percent of traditional workers say they are unhappy with their work situations.

Many independents are not average workers at least in their own eyes. Seven out of ten say they are experts in their field and have advanced skills and education. Zain said companies are turning to these workers not as a low-cost solution but as hired guns who can come in and fix specific problems.

There are still a lot of challenges ahead as this new era takes shape. Employers need to find ways to dole out more work to these independents. And they need to rethink how they look at work, as more of discrete projects to be assigned. And employees need to get used to habit of scrapping for new jobs and dealing without health care and other safety net provisions. Zaino said the government also has to figure out how to deal with a shift in independent workers when it comes to tax income and how to categorize these employees.

There’s still a lot that needs to happen, but this will be the new norm as technology unshackles workers and gives them the opportunity to work from anywhere and be open to jobs from all kinds of employers.

“We’re pretty confident this is new way of work; this independent way of work is here to stay,” Zaino said.

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Photo by Pinar Ozger.

12 Responses to “By 2020, independent workers will be the majority”

  1. I have been a freelancer/contractor for over 7 years and not by choice. This is a boondoogle for companies. Corporations pay no bonuses, no healthcare costs, no sick ,vacation or holidays. There is no 401K so there is no match.
    People hired for these jobs don’t necessarily have super special skills. They are just a cheap,easily disposed of workforce.
    When will these people unionized and use their power to get better work arrangements who knows. I, for one, can’t wait until the affordable healthcare act is in full force…so a collective of us can force better insurance out of the healthcare industry. Why some many of us have not thought of this is amazing. As you age as a freelancer, the need for certain employer/collective based items becomes more important.

    • Freelance

      I have been a “free”-lancer for 11 years after 12 years in the high-tech industry and having been cut loose and being unable to find full-time regular employment. I have had to pay for my own medical insurance ($5,000 deductible and $7,500 coinsurance for $250/month). No paid time off. No so-called “retirement” plan. I work 60-80 hours per week (if I’m lucky) of which 20-25 hours is spent hustling for work. This stress and loss of income cost me a marriage and house (not that I was so keen on a big house and mortgage as was my former wife).

      For you younger readers in your 20s to early 30s who find yourself “free”-lancing, I am your future.

      Were I you, I would downsize my material expectations. I would not own a car. I would share living expenses with friends or family. I would not eat out. I would save money. For the males, co-habitate, if you must, but don’t marry. Have a vasectomy to avoid accidental pregnancy, abortions, or entrapment. I would not have children (cost too damn much and the society takes them from you to soon.)

      Enjoy simple pleasures. Get rid of the TV. Don’t waste your money and good health on drugs and alcohol. Stay active and invest time and effort in your good health.

      Good luck.

  2. This will be a wonderland for companies who already resent the fact they need to have employees at all — no benefits, no profit-sharing, no offices, no equipment, no unions, no health-and-safety issues. All the benefits of operating in China without having to pay for worker dorms.

    I’m not sure how workers benefit from this, though. No job security, no health insurance, no labor law coverage (you’re a contractor! you can work 16 hours a day!), no advancement. Constantly being on the hustle for a job, *any* job, to keep the rent paid and lights on. You get to be your own IT, your own admin support, your own HR, all for less money. (Less? Think about all the other desperate contractors out there, looking for the next job.)

    This will be great news for Mr. Zaino, but I can’t see how it’s anything but bad news for the rest of us.