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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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.

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