- Confidence among "independent workers" in the U.S. is higher than ever, thanks in part to technological advances, growth in online talent marketplaces and a skilled talent shortage, according to a report from MBO Partners.
- The 41 million freelancers, contractors, consultants, temporary or on-call workers MBO classified as independent workers generated $1.28 trillion in revenue for the U.S. economy last year, the company said. In 2019, MBO said these independents have added $1.3 trillion to the economy — the equivalent of Spain's total GDP. "Occasional independents," or the number of Americans supplementing their income with side gigs, rose to 15 million in 2019.
- The report identified some emerging trends, as well. More than half of full-time independent workers feel more financially secure than they did as full-time employees, and millennials are displacing baby boomers in the independent workforce, according to MBO. Though independents find work mostly by word of mouth, nearly one in three said their other top methods are online talent marketplaces and social media.
Workers and employers are getting comfortable adopting contingent arrangements, according to surveys from recent years. A 2017 survey, for instance, revealed that 94% of workers are open to non-traditional jobs, which include contract or freelance work opportunities. Sixty-one percent of employers in a 2017 Randstad Sourceright report had planned to replace one-third of their permanent staff with contingent workers. And in a February 2019 survey, independent workers made up about 20% of workforces in half the companies polled.
Employers' need for gig workers may be driven, in part, by the short-term labor needs they face as they attempt to grow. Experts have noted that HR managers feel pressure to adjust to economic fluctuations, and hiring more contractors and freelancers can keep workflows moving and overheads low while a talent shortage persists.
Some contingent workers, however, do not experience the confidence and security that MBO reports. For example, Amazon Flex delivery drivers report inconsistent hourly wages and stressful experiences, especially in congested areas of the U.S., according to CNBC.
Other workers don't agree with their contingent arrangements, like Uber and Lyft drivers who struck this spring to protest a lack of job security following a U.S. Department of Labor opinion classifying them as independent contractors. At Google, the "shadow workforce" of contractors outnumbers the number of employees, but these workers allege they have not had access to the safety-related communications that employees receive.
If the contingent workforce continues to grow, talent professionals might consider how they can ensure safe working conditions and better engagement with these workers — while keeping in mind the limitations of their employment status. According to MBO, this source of talent is vital and should not be squandered.
"This report highlights the critical role independent talent plays in today's economy and the need to include this category of high impact talent within any organization's workforce strategy," Bryan T. Peña, MBO Partners' chief of market strategy, commented in the statement. "The data confirms that the demand for skilled independents continues to rise and we expect the numbers of high-earning independents to rise as well."