Freelancing, the best thing ever to happen to the workplace or an evil idea designed to make workers poor and companies inefficient? We are not even close to a consensus on that, but apparently we are getting closer. According to one new study, 41 percent of U.S. employers plant to increase their use of freelancers over the next five years, and only 5 percent plan to decrease it.
The figures come from a survey by Elance-oDesk on the Millenial generation. If you are not familiar with Elance, you should take a look at it. It is a virtual job market to find any one to do a job, any time. If you are a freelancer, you post your resume on Elance and people can find you to do (usually) limited projects or short term jobs. If you have a job for someone to do, you can post it and wait for applicants, or skim the resumes posted and contact people.
If Elance gives a good representation of freelancers, then I would worry that many of them are indeed going to be poor. For many services, the rates offered by ‘employers’ tend to be very low, but then again you post a job (say for a graphic designer) the bids may also be very low as well. That is partly because Elance is an international site, so people are offering services at prices that might be more in tune with the cost of living in Mumbai than they would in New York. Still, in many ways it is simply a matter of supply and demand, and putting all would-be graphic designers together in one on-line market is going to drive down costs.
Then again, it may well be that the freelance phenomenon is actually encouraging outsourcing. Someone posting a job from the U.S. may may not want to take on the red tape of employing someone from outside the country, but a larger company may find it worth their while. According to the Elance survey, 30 percent of companies who say they want to hire more freelancers say that it is because it is for a ‘lower cost of required infrastructure’. I think we could probably say it is for ‘lower costs’ in general, and that the calculated percentage probably understates the reality.
The findings on freelancers are actually part of a larger study of Millennial workers, (somewhat arbitrarily defined as those born between 1982 and 1993). Quite startling (to me anyway) they will make up the majority of the U.S. workforce by 2015 –or next year. Twenty-eight percent of them are already in management, and two-thirds see themselves there in ten years. But here is what stands out to me: the vast majority of those surveyed are not so committed to their employers that they want to stay there forever. In fact, 79 percent of millennials would consider quitting their regular job and working for themselves in the future. That’s a huge percentage.
So employers like the idea of freelancers, and workers like the idea of freelancing, or at least are open to it. Given the efficiencies of it, we are certainly going to see more of it. In fact, once those millennials are in management in a larger way, no doubt they will integrate it more into the workforce – hopefully to positive effect for both sides. It this its to be the Age of Freelancers, let’s hope that it is one that we look back on as a good one in economic history.