Sunday, September 4, 2011

A new industrial revolution

The head of the Freelancer's Union writes in The Atlantic
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.

This transition is nothing less than a revolution. We haven't seen a shift in the workforce this significant in almost 100 years when we transitioned from an agricultural to an industrial economy. Now, employees are leaving the traditional workplace and opting to piece together a professional life on their own. As of 2005, one-third of our workforce participated in this "freelance economy." Data show that number has only increased over the past six years. Entrepreneurial activity in 2009 was at its highest level in 14 years, online freelance job postings skyrocketed in 2010, and companies are increasingly outsourcing work. While the economy has unwillingly pushed some people into independent work, many have chosen it because of greater flexibility that lets them skip the dreary office environment and focus on more personally fulfilling projects.

But as she says it is not always voluntary. It offers greater opportunity but much greater vulnerability - although perhaps that is the essence of life.

The payroll numbers on Friday - no job growth at all, zero compared to a Bloomberg survey expectation of 68k - was just awful. it is likely a sign that a double dip is on the way.

it is big corporations who have come through the crisis relatively well. I think freelance sounds attractive in many ways - but in practice it may also mean some massive corporation doesn't pay you for work you've done for 90 days or much longer to get an extra kick in its cashflow.

It has also been a theme for many years - I believe Charles Handy wrote about it the 1990s, and Robert Reich and others in the 2000s. I'll explore it and related ideas about entrepreneurship in future posts.

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