The freelance surge

The time of the CDB is fast coming to an end. The time of people traispsing into town to do work in centralised organisations is over, it is just coming to an end slowly.

The end will come with the advent of ubiquitous high-speed broadband and readily available cost effective wireless.

Already the days of SME and medium enterprises spending thousands on servers and offices is dissipating. The cloud is delivering for faster and cheaper.

But the changes coming are even bigger. What is coming is the freelance surge.

It’s been called the Gig Economy, Freelance Nation, the Rise of the Creative Class, and the e-conomy, with the “e” standing for electronic, entrepreneurial, or perhaps eclectic. Everywhere we look, we can see the U.S.workforce undergoing a massive change. No longer do we work at the same company for 25 years, waiting for the gold watch, expecting the benefits and security that come with full-time employment. We’re no longer simply lawyers, or photographers, or writers. Instead, we’re part-time lawyers-cum- amateur photographers who write on the side.

Today, careers consist of piecing together various types of work, juggling multiple clients, learning to be marketing and accounting experts, and creating offices in bedrooms/coffee shops/coworking spaces. Independent workers abound. We call them freelancers, contractors, sole proprietors, consultants, temps, and the self-employed.

And, perhaps most surprisingly, many of them love it.

Most of the people I work with or interact with are in this category already. We work anywhere, from our phones, iPads or laptops. Three major trends are driving the freelance surge.

These trends will have an enormous impact on our economy and our society:

1) We don’t actually know the true composition of the new workforce. After 2005, the government stopped counting independent workers in a meaningful and accurate way. Studies have shown that the independent workforce has grown and changed significantly since then, but the government hasn’t substantiated those results with a new, official count. Washington can’t fix what it can’t count. Since policies and budget decisions are based on data, freelancers are not being taken into account as a viable, critical component of the U.S. workforce. We’re not acknowledging their prevalence and economic contributions, let alone addressing the myriad challenges they face.

2) Jobs no longer provide the protections and security that workers used to expect. The basics ­ such as health insurance, protection from unpaid wages, a retirement plan, and unemployment insurance ­ are out of reach for one-third of working Americans. Independent workers are forced to seek them elsewhere, and if they can’t find or afford them, then they go without. Our current support system is based on a traditional employment model, where one worker must be tethered to one employer to receive those benefits. Given that fewer and fewer of us are working this way, it’s time to build a new support system that allows for the flexible and mobile way that people are working.

3) This new, changing workforce needs to build economic security in profoundly new ways. For the new workforce, the New Deal is irrelevant. When it was passed in the 1930s, the New Deal provided workers with important protections and benefits ­ but those securities were built for a traditional employer-employee relationship. The New Deal has not evolved to include independent workers: no unemployment during lean times; no protections from age, race, and gender discrimination; no enforcement from the Department of Labor when employers don’t pay; and the list goes on.

This is perhaps one major reason why political parties steeped in unionism may well be doomed. The “shop floor” as it was known is disappearing. the only places it still exists is now in the State Sector, ironically the areas that are also the most highly unionised. The security blankets that went with jobs for life are fast disappearing.

The solution will rest with our ability to form networks for exchange and to create political power. I call this “new mutualism .” You will be reading more about this idea in subsequent articles from me next week, as I believe that new mutualism will be at the core of the new social support system that we need to build for the new workforce.

This series looks interesting, I’ll be following it as it develops and keep readers informed.


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  • Peter Beveridge

    Interesting!!!! I have been self employed since the early 1990’s when I was declared redundant twice. I was a Captain at sea and when SCONZ was sold and when BHP took over NZ Steel I lost my jobs.

    I have been running an independent specialist bookshop since then and run it on line and have moved my operation to a small town in the S Waikato.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the comments in the article. Employment is changing FAST and the Govts cannot keep up with it and within 10-15 years most people will be either self employed, freelancers or contractors.

  • John

    My partner & I have worked from home since early nineties, but in the last 2-3 years we are seeing a big change taking place in how we work. 40% of our clients we now login remotely after hours to sort IT problems, we dont use the company cars as much, our car usage and all associates costs are declining slowly. Customers are happy, we’re not stuck in traffic, win win for all – another harbour crossing – bollocks to Len ” Dreamer” Brown and his 2.4 billion rail loop, another socialist dreamer that will be consigned to the dump!

  • Mr Blobby

    The last Government started down the knowledge economy path, but quietly backed away from it when confronted with the lack of infrastructure to take full advantage of it.
    Namely slow internet, very expensive Internet. But most importantly Data Caps. The net result was an economic brake on the economy to the tune of 1 Billion Dollars.
    All thanks to our very own Telecon monopoly. Who, have and still are, raping and pillaging the country, with the blessing of successive Governments. Maximizing profits whilst under investing in infrastructure.

  • Harry

    In New Zealand at least, it’s not going to happen in too much of a hurry. The notion of the ‘telecommute’ and ‘work from home’ doesn’t go down too well with many small minded, petty managers that pervade New Zealand’s businesses. These people need you there in person so they can keep an eye on you and make sure that that 8 hour day you said you were doing from home isn’t 4-5 hours and you’re having a nap or an extended trip to the supermarket on company time. It’s about trust and many managers don’t have it (and in a lot of cases rightly so). Similarly, as a contractor/’freelancer’ myself I think all employees in workplaces need to be made contractors. I see so much wastage with sick days and four weeks annual leave etc. That and the WFF top up is a reason that I see that is keeping wages low in NZ.

  • diabolos

    Yes some people are becoming virtual. Banks started off (as did telecom) diminishing face to face services and now they are beefing them up again.

    What a load of old complete bollocks. The post is valid – many people are doing this – but we live in a human world full of people hardwired to interact face to face for meaningful life.

    Guys – people cant afford food on the table – they arent technically in poverty – but they cant make ends meet. I’ve had people contact me pleading for an advertised job … women who cant make enough from their multishift jobs to feed their kids.

    This is just a load of absolute fashionista techie trash. And what happens to the people who dont have the skills to become contractors, self employed, or freelancers.

    If this happens – you better build a big fence around gated communities with surveillance cameras and hire security guards – and live in an enclosed world keeping the vast unwashed out of your life.

    Gods – i cant believe this rubbish

  • Gazzaw

    Peter Beveridge has it in one! In 2000 I sold my interests in a large NZ based business with a view to retiring early. I was bored witless within a few months & accepted an offer from one of my previous suppliers (a big US based multinational) who were looking to establish a presence in NZ. Within 18 months their entire sales & marketing force in North America had become home-based and within a a further year had progressed to their worldwide operation. Not only has it reduced their bricks & mortar requirements in a major way but our staff no longer have to commute & longterm staff retention has gone through the roof. For instance, senior female sales managers no longer bother with maternity leave & neither are their childcare requirements a major issue. The benefits are way too many to go into here.

    From a personal point of view I am still working but I wouldnt be if I had to do the daily commute. I agree 100% with the principles of ‘new mutualism’. What has worked for my company in the US for ten years has worked well for me here. Another big positive aspect is how this will enable many workers to continue working after the age of 65.

    With the exponential advances in technology we must ask ourselves where will we be in 2025. I guess we only have to look at how far we have progressed since 1997.

    • diabolos

      I rest my case …

      • Gazzaw

        …….and I rest mine.

        Take a look at history and check out what happened to the Luddites.

        I am not a 20 or 30 something techno-freak. I am 60+ for f*** sake. We all have to move with the times. My God, I don’t want to be in the position that my parents were in 30 years ago when I was trying to explain what a fax did.

  • diabolos

    Dont stress Gazzaw .. good for you mate for doing as well as you have obviously done … just you cant for a moment say or impose – that your successful paradigm applies to all. Some will be left behind. What will happen to them – and i personally think they may be the majority according to the bleak new world proposed in the post and particularly by commenters.

    Life is people – not principles, ideology or technology. People produce – they do – they innovate and they love and live.

    • Gazzaw

      I don’t disagree with your very laudable sentiment. Life is people and I hate the thought that a proportion of our population could become categorised as useless.

      • diabolos

        Mate – they are categorised as useless and that is the point. All they need is the avaialibility of jobs and then managed state coercion can start to happen. Starting with trade training and skills training in general.

        My honest belief is mate – that people just need a chance. The picture im getting from reading blogs and commentaries is punitive and “fuckem all” in nature.

        We need to give these people a chance – however you wish to express it.

  • atrout

    Hey Diabolos… there may be some solutions out there for that significant chunk of society which has little satisfaction and less value but what you are suggesting is that some government agency provide then with wool, needles and training and then a follow up course on how to unpick the cloth and roll the wool into balls. Nah, the revolution and the solutions have to be much larger than that. I really haven’t a clue but after spending a bit of time overseas recently I see see something attractive in returning a bit of the “village” into people’s lives with more structures from the village and less from central government. Something to identify with and less to resent on the externals. What with the Left encouraging the underprivileged to hate the wealthy, we have less opportunity for our fellow villagers to value any form of real productivity.

    • diabolos

      In many senses you are right i think …

      Decentralisation would assist – witness the initiatives in Otorohonga via their Mayor.

      No im not suggesting what you have outlined mate … The whole thing is an ecosystem and you cant tinker in isolation. Im not suggesting fake work.

      The “village” concept is what New Zealand used to be – pre Lange and Fonterra. It had much in its favour and was the birthplace i believe of our innovative nature.

  • Mickey

    I think you mean CBD (not CDB) ?