The Freelance Life

I read an article about freelance workers recently that said according to an Intuit study 40% of the workforce will be freelance by 2020. That’s more than 60 million people.

I am already there.

Some people dream about the idea of  being able to leverage their skills, creativity and talents without answering to a boss. Of course, freelancers still have a boss. The boss just keeps changing.

I was warned by others before I headed down this road that it can be a scary proposition. Some freelancers work long hours and without any of the traditional perks (benefits, paid vacations etc.) and protections of regular employment.

What is a freelancer? It is defined as a person who acts independently without being affiliated with or authorized by an organization and without a long-term commitment to any one employer.

Going back in history, it was a mercenary soldier, especially in the Middle Ages. A soldier with a lance who was free to use it for whoever was ready to pay.

I'm not a fan of the mercenary part of the definition, but all of that fits.

So, why did I go freelance after many years as a regular employee in academia?

I thought it would afford me more of a work/life balance now that I am in the last chapter of my career. Some freelancers can actually make more money on their own. I won't, but then aagain I never intended to work enough to make more.

I do like being selective about what work I take on and the option to take on challenges across multiple industries.

I will miss the community aspect of a workplace since I am really solo now in my work. Some people would have a problem with intermittent work and pay. I'm okay with that for now, but I have a pension.

Why do companies and institutions like to hire freelancers (you can include consultants and independent contractors in there)? They certainly like not having to pay for expensive benefit packages. They like having on-demand talent and access to expertise when it’s needed.

Since I have been a full-time teacher and employee and for the past decade I have been a full-time employee and also an adjunct faculty member, I have seen both sides.

Being an adjunct is a very tough way to make a career life. People who do it as their job (and not as a supplement) work hard with crazy hours and schedules and usually without a lot of support from the institutions that employ them. Of course, they teach the majority of college students these days at most institutions, so they are very important.

Will 40% of the workforce be this way in a decade? Sounds like a high number but in 2006 (the last time the federal government counted) the number of independent and contingent workers—contractors, temps, and the self-employed—stood at 42.6 million, or about 30% of the workforce.

In the years since then, there has been an economic downturn and the employment rate has recovered at a very slow pace. Exception: temporary, contingent, and independent workers. Between 2009 and 2012, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of temporary employees rose by 29%.

Forbes magazine suggested this past summer that we should forget about the jobs reports that come our regularly (one is due at the end of this week) and focus on the freelance economy.

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