Why Freelancing is the Future of Work

I’m a big fan of the Freelance Economy. Like many other working professionals, I rely on my Uber and Lyft drivers to help me navigate around the city. Furthermore, I’ve used freelancers for various tasks over the years and have found it really useful for all of my blogging endeavors.

Having talked to various drivers, graphic designers, digital marketing consultants, and content editors I can see the positives and negatives of the freelance lifestyle. Clearly others do too, as the Freelancers Union estimates there are as many as 53 Million Americans who are freelancers. While I think we’re still in the early innings of the Freelance Economy revolution, I’m bullish on the future, and it looks like I’m not the only one.

Last week, PWC, the global professional services firm with over 150,000 workers, launched Talent Exchange – A platform filled with freelance work opportunities on various tasks and projects within PWC. To date, there are 2,500 freelancers on the platform, a number that you can expect to grow. PWC started that platform as a means to identify top talent to match with specific projects that need to get done. Furthermore, PWC, like many other consulting firms, already has many flexible work arrangements in place for many of its workers. It has the tools, technologies and processes to work virtually and collaborate – so if it’s already doing this for it’s full-time workers, there’s really no reason why it can’t extend that to contractors and freelancers.

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Talent Marketplaces are a new hot market, but certainly not unique –  HourlyNerd has been around for a few years and UpWork (formerly Odesk+eLance) has paired millions of businesses and freelancers over the past few years, and is now looking to do the same for large enterprises. What’s different here is that for the first time a large organization has finally understood that there is significantly more smart and talented workers that exist outside the walls of it’s organization and it is trying to find a way to tap into that talent. Furthermore, this is also an acknowledgement that some people would prefer to be a “free agent” and not be affiliated with one company instead of the traditional method of salaried employment.

The HourlyNerd Leadership Team

The HourlyNerd Leadership Team

So, how might this work, and who might be interested in something like this? Here are a few scenarios:

A family who has a child and one parent decides to take time off from work. Instead of being faced with going to return full-time or being a stay at home parent, the parent can choose to work from home while taking on a couple assignments to earn extra income. Or, perhaps one parent can work a traditional full-time job during the week while the other works on PWC’s platform on the weekends while the other takes care of parent duty.

In another scenario, perhaps an up and coming designer wants to pad their portfolio with brand name and reputable work. PWC serves almost all of the Fortune 500, and a designer could easily be linked to working on something their portfolio the brand recognition it needs.

 

PWC’s platform is still in its infancy, and I’m sure there will be hiccups along the way. But don’t be surprised if more companies begin moving in this direction, and more employees begin opting out of the traditional employer contract in pursuit of the freelance life.

Why Learning is the New Coding

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It’s hard to dismiss the growing importance of technology and software for the future of the workforce and economy. For interested students, there are coding bootcamps and online courses to teach you how to code. Governments gotten involved as too, as President Obama has pledged billions of dollars to teach  students how to become technically competent. Last but not least, companies are starting to wise up to the digital revolution, and are starting to take it upon themselves to ensure they have the technical skills of the future.

The NY Times ran a great story on the transformation that’s underway at AT&T known as Vision 2020. AT&T is trying to reinvent itself so it can compete in the digital world. According to it’s CEO Randall Stephenson, AT&T “needs to retrain its 280,000 employees so they can improve their coding skills, or learn them, and make quick business decisions based on a fire hose of data coming into the company.”

According to another Business Insider article, AT&T expects its employees to spend about 5-10 hours a week extra so it can learn and evolve. While the NY Times article seems a little doomsday, it brings across a good point – the digital world is accelerating the rate of change and innovation to faster paces than we’ve ever seen. While the technologies are coming faster and quicker, it also means that people who use the technology need to adapt and evolve just as quickly. That means learning and acquiring new skills (like what AT&T is espousing) is as important as ever.

So how does AT&T plan to do this? By encouraging and it’s employees to learn and develop the skills needed to produce these new products and services. For starters, it’s partnered with Udacity and Georgia Tech for an online Master’s in Engineering Program. Its employees can take the program free of charge (cost is $6,600) and they can do it while they work their day job, which means lots of late nights and weekend work.

For it’s workers who are interested in growing and developing new skills, who want to work in more technical minded environments, and who want to stay with AT&T for awhile this is a great opportunity to guarantee opportunities for the future, whether at the company or elsewhere.

However, these changes don’t sit well with everyone. A good portion of its workforce is near the age of retirement, and would rather “run out the clock” than adapt and develop new skills. Others see their skillset as niche and acknowledge the digital revolution but believe they will be fine.

Unfortunately, not everyone can simply run out the clock in their job until they retire. And while there will be some jobs that never get replaced, many will. People in the workforce (looking at you, millennials) will have lots of working years left in their career. If there’s any lesson from this story it’s that if you want to increase your career success you’ll need to focus on continuously learning and acquiring new skills, especially technically minded ones. Those who do so will have the best chance at remaining relevant in the increasingly challenging workforce.

So how do you learn? There’s lots of great resources in the digital age. AT&T partnered with Udacity, but there are lots of online learning options on the web such as Udemy and Skillcrush. Furthermore, I’ve also written a post on how I learn through various digital tools that don’t require any money.

It’s clear that technology innovation is not going away, if anything, it’s speeding up. And while it’s great to learn how to code there are many other types of skills that can be incredibly relevant in the digital age. What is just as  important is acquiring a mindset where you’re open and diligent about continuously learning and developing new skills.

Whether it’s coding or not, gaining a mindset of growth and learning is a critical characteristic for employees in the new economy. The sooner employees realize it, the more valuable they’ll become.