For a few months now, we’ve been investigating the world of freelancers with the goal of understanding it better. We’re all witnessing trends that have a strong impact on the employer-employee relationship as we’ve known it, effects that may be even stronger in the creative and tech worlds.
Having dipped into this evolving environment, we’d like to share some of our thoughts with those who deal with these changes on a daily basis.
Ambitious parents of high-flyers might be shocked to learn that nearly 90% of all graduates who emerge from university with top degrees see freelancing – “gigging” – as a lucrative career choice.
Over eight million jobs have been lost in the EU since the 2008 recession. Companies of all sizes and their employees have been forced to become increasingly flexible, not only about the work that they do, but how, where and when they do it. In response, the self-employed workforce has increased by 70% in the UK alone in the past decade; 1.6 million of them professional freelancers.
As Patricia Leighton, Professor of European Social Law at IPAG in Paris, said:
“There is a major change in the way work is performed – a shift from having a job to working for clients.”
The traditional model of the professional ‘company man’ who studied hard and was employed for life by the same boss, is ancient history: a career is no longer just defined in terms of employment in a big corporate, the public sector or even an SME.
“Generation Y views a job not just as a means to pay the rent, rather as a route to exploring their passions, hobbies and philosophies.”
Why are the Gen Yers, as they spearhead the drive towards a new career model, focusing on self-employment as they swell the ranks of the professional freelancers in the gigging community?
There are 6 key reasons:
1. Independence and flexibility – These rank highly among the reasons for both newly qualified and more experienced professionals choosing to work as freelancers. Over two thirds (69%) of all graduates report feeling that independent work offers them the opportunity to be in control.
2. Opportunities for creativity – The variety inherent in freelance work allows for new challenges. Choice and involvement in new projects is what inspires many new entrants into the profession. More than a third of new graduates (38%) reported this as a significant pull.
3. Financial rewards – Graduate are attracted to the earning potential of freelance work with 38% of those polled saying they feel they can earn as much, if not more than they could in a traditional job. The important point was that they felt in command of their earnings by controlling their own work rate.
4. Better work-life balance – Graduates (and older professionals too) felt that freelancing gave them the ability to juggle family and career. The implications of this differ for each age group but it all comes down to the same thing – Gen Yers prefer to decide when and where they are going to work.
5. Being one’s own boss – The perception that freelancing gives them control over their lives after university seems to be increasingly important to new graduates: 28% said they see freelancing as a good way to work for themselves. This includes the flexibility to work from whatever location they choose.
6. Less spending on suits and lattes – Frivolous? Well, it appears that, particularly amongst older graduates, the prospect of commuting, lattes, business lunches and the cost – and sometimes stress – of keeping up appearances is actually a factor in the decision to freelance. Of course, many young freelancers are also highly individualistic, and may prefer to avoid the conventions of office life. They see freelancing as an opportunity to provide a professional service without the added challenge of conforming to a corporate image.
With the labour market setting fair to become the best year since 2007 and with growth in private-sector jobs expected to outweigh cuts to public-sector roles by five to one in 2015, it will be interesting to see the effects on the freelance market by the end of the year.
These changes in the aspirations of Gen Y graduates coupled with the constant evolution of models of employment have huge implications for employers and workers alike.
We will be examining these issues over the next few posts.