Freelance Workforce vs. Direct Employee

If you’re currently working and aren’t a direct employee of a company, you would probably be part of the freelance workforce. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on several factors. Regardless, it points to a trend that has been growing over the years and could have relevance for you in the future.

Is Freelancing the “New Normal” Employment?

According to a study quoted by Recruiting Trends, freelancing is the new normal, with 53+ million Americans doing it. The rosy picture painted by the heads of Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk suggests that this is a strong and positive trend. For example, the CEO of Elance-oDesk says that “the connected era we live in is liberating our workforce. The barriers to being a freelance professional…are going away.”

The Downside of Freelance Work

As you can probably imagine, all is not necessarily rosy about this situation. The article references the opposing view that the surge in freelancers and consultants stems from “recent tough economic times when full-time jobs were scarce.”

If you’re one of those who turned to freelancing/consulting after being laid off, for instance, you might not find this reported trend to be a positive factor–especially if you’ve been trying to reenter the full-time workforce as a direct employee. For one thing, freelancers generally don’t have access to the side benefits of direct employment–things like paid sick leave and vacation time, medical coverage, and the like.

Perceived Positives of the Freelance Trend

In the Recruiting Trends article, several facts are quoted as evidence of positive growth in freelance work. Briefly, these are:

  • Increased demand for freelancers: 32% increase versus 15% decrease.
  • Use of technology to find work: 69% are finding technology helpful; 42% have done freelancing via the Internet.
  • Improved reputation: 65% indicated that the choice of freelancing for a career path is regarded with more respect than it was 3 years ago.
  • Growth potential: 38% expect their hours to increase in the coming year versus 12% that expect a decrease.

If you have been or are considering being part of the freelance workforce vs. a direct employee, the above information might give you something to think about. Of course, if you’re looking at the situation as a “no other choice” scenario, your attitude about it is probably less positive than it would be if done voluntarily.

What to Keep in Mind about Freelancing

Regardless of your reasons for being a freelancer/consultant, it’s important to keep in mind that your future prospects could depend heavily on the value you contribute in each situation going forward. Value is still a kingpin in the minds of potential employers–that is, what can you do for them that would enable them to be more competitive, profitable, etc.?

Ideally, every assignment or project you land should enable you to make–and document–a clear contribution to the success of the organization you’ve done the work for. Progress from one assignment to the next over time could also play a significant role in how your freelancing is viewed by prospective employers. Simply treading water won’t impress them.

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