The freelance workforce is on the rise

Jun 18th, 2018

For the first time in history, less than half of all working Australians are in permanent full-time work.

Freelance has in the past been regarded as a dirty word and struck fear in the minds of nine-to-five professionals. But the composition of the Australian workforce is changing, driven by the technology-fuelled digital economy. The expansion of the peer-to-peer (sharing) economy has enjoyed strong growth across the globe; think Upstart, Airtasker and Freelancer to name a few. Australians, particularly Millennials, are increasingly joining the freelance revolution.

A 2015 study released by online jobs marketplace Upwork found that one third of the workforce are abandoning secure jobs and regular employer-paid super contributions for less traditional employment. The freelance workforce segment barely existed 10 years ago. Freelancers value the flexibility, diversity and autonomy of the peer-to-peer economy over ‘stable’ jobs. Many say that no amount of money would entice them back into the traditional workforce.

And it seems that the freelance economy is prospering. Contrary to oft quoted press, the faster growing segment of the on-demand workforce is white collar professionals rather than low skilled workers. (This article does not plan to discuss the experiences of the lower skilled workers in the new P2P economy. They have a distinct set of requirements and protections that need to be in place).

Most freelance white-collar workers are freelance by choice. Upwork’s study revealed that over half of people who left traditional employment now earn more than they did previously.

And to be noted, the growing supply of freelance professionals is due to demand. Australian businesses are looking to increase their talent pool without blowing out costs. This enables them to bring in talent on an as-needs basis and save the cost of a permanent employee. Also, the opposite holds true; some companies are subcontracting out their talent on a short-term time frame, to make the best use of down times.

The next three years will see organisations comprehensively reassess how they directly source, engage and manage non-permanent employees. They will establish and engage a community of workers to whom they can make project opportunities available, resulting in a relationship somewhere between a completely unknown freelance talent and a permanent employee.

Australia has fought hard to achieve strong rights for workers. In the same vein, we need to ensure that the right legislation is in place to protect workers under this new paradigm. We need to rethink how we offer fundamental goods and services to what is now the largest workforce in Australia.

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18/06/2018 Back to News