However, research shows that one thing is for certain: Independent professionals are and will continue to be a viable and vital part of the American workforce. Data suggests that six in 10 workers will be independent or will have worked independently at some point in their professional careers by 2027.
Independents are already a valuable economic resource — the 40.9 million strong population contributes more than $1.2 trillion annually to U.S. GDP. But as this population continues to grow and generations such as millennials and Gen Z increasingly turn to independent work to pursue passions, to enjoy better work-life integration and even to make more money, businesses must take note.
We have contemplated a few ways in which today’s businesses can appropriately prepare.
Independent workers will cycle in and out of full-time employment, even as satisfaction levels rise.
Satisfaction levels for independents are the highest they’ve ever been — 74% say they are highly satisfied and 65% say that working independently was their choice completely.
Even as satisfaction levels continue to grow, independents are becoming increasingly likely to cycle in and out of traditional employment throughout their careers. They do so to gain new skills, revenue or work-life balance as needed throughout their lifetime.
This shift isn’t a reflection of independent work in and of itself, but rather a trend toward a new way of working that puts the individual, rather than the employer or client, in control of their own professional future.
To prepare, businesses should look simultaneously at their full-time and contract populations and put policies and procedures in place that make your organization an attractive place to work.
Businesses must focus on attaining client-of-choice status.
The combination of a shortage of talent, a skills gap and an increasing desire among workers to have an independent career puts companies in the difficult position of dealing with a war for talent not just for traditional employees, but for independents as well.
Starting today and continuing in the coming months and years, companies must refine policies and procedures to attract top talent. Organizations must focus not just on being an employer of choice but on becoming a client of choice for the independent workforce as well. By instituting practices such as flexible and attractive payment and contract terms, preferred talent networks and preferential vehicles to simplify independent contractor engagement, companies will be able to quickly and compliantly recruit and retain top independent talent.
Policies and procedures need to be implemented not just for independents, but throughout the organization as well; buy-in from the bottom up ensures that independents are valued and treated consistently throughout the organization, no matter the size.
Companies will buy work in terms of results, not labor.
As independent work becomes more and more mainstream, we’ll see independents in highly-coveted work types flourish and become more in-demand. Particularly, computer programming, biotechnology and human capital remain hot areas for contractor growth.
As these industries continue to develop, larger and more complex project needs will arise. In response, companies will become increasingly creative about ways to produce results. Independents will as well, specializing their service offerings even further and automating certain portions of their work to earn higher profits, while still providing good value with fixed, determinable outcomes.
Automation will yield new opportunities.
Automation, as well as artificial intelligence, are big impactors of the future of work. However, the broad-stroke concept of “automation” doesn’t fully encapsulate what this trend will really mean for most businesses. We know that self-driving cars and robots won’t take over our lives in the next decade, but we suspect some level of automation will be in place.
For both independents and businesses, this likely will lead to an increased demand for project management skills. It may also mean that independents will find themselves existing not just with other workers (both full-time and independent), but with robots that complete more menial and automated tasks. Cobotic relationships may even become the norm.
Traditional retirement won’t be a goal.
Today’s workers are delaying retirement long past age 65 for a variety of reasons. Savvy organizations should plan to re-engage their aging workforce, either by leveraging the experience of this workforce on return-to-work independent projects or by creating opportunities for older workers to return on a project basis. After all, the knowledge and skills that these workers bring are often invaluable. Organizations will also need to appropriately plan to engage Gen Z — predicted to be the largest independent workforce — as these workers are more inclined than ever to pursue contract work engagements.
Policy will need to change.
To remain in tune with the influence of a large independent workforce, there will need to be policy change as well. We predict reduced regulation and tax code adjustments, which have already begun to be addressed in legal proposals.
In the coming years, we may even see the establishment of certifications or licenses that indicate compliance in independent workers or, at the very least, clarification of the proper definition of an independent contractor under the law.