How Big is the Gig Workforce?

Greetings from Washington, D.C. where, as I write this post, the lead runners in the Marine Corps Marathon have just crossed the finish line. It is a mean feat considering that the late October temperature here, 75 degrees and rising, is just too damn hot to run the 26.2 mile course.

Oh, their aching feet.

And how about that climate change?

Our politics and the mood of the nation are percolating as well. The U.S.’s current unemployment rate holds steady at around 5 percent. In years past, we would all take comfort in that metric. And yet, we who toil as full-time employees or punch a card before entering the factory floor or job site find ourselves terribly anxious about the future.

Near-full-employment should be a reason to rejoice. So why are so many of us distressed? It is that we can no longer hold reliable the notion of steady full-time employment and scaling incomes throughout our careers.

Our college and university graduating classes of 2007 and 2008 know that all too well. With heavy hearts, these men and women accepted their bachelor’s degrees, fully aware that quick starts to long and prosperous careers — enjoyed by graduating classes two or three years their senior — were not for them to happen.

Graduating classes that followed the ones in 2007 and 2008 swallowed the same bitter pill. And, in the more than 8 years that have passed since the Great Recession of 2008, [full-time employment] career outlooks have not improved.

Millennials learned to share in preschool. And that is a good thing. Unlike the generations that preceded them, Millennials have best employed sharing skill to survive. The so-called Sharing Economy — ride sharing, home sharing, work and workplace sharing — arose out of abject need. It soon became [their] thing.

Some who today pay the bills hate the gig work experience. But what is becoming more apparent with time is that a rising number of gig workers like the experience and are malleable enough in their work expectations to make it work.

We would not be talking so much about a Gig Economy and the Gig Workforce if it were not for the fact that so many Americans have one or more gigs.

So, how big is the Gig Workforce?

It is already big and getting bigger.

Gig economy website Upwork estimates that 55 million out of our current 158 million total U.S. workforce are gigging (35 percent) while supply chain management consultantcy Ardent|Partners estimates that 38 percent of the U.S. workforce does gig work. At the high end, global management consulting firm McKinsey estimates that the gig workforce may extend to 68 million (43 percent of the workforce). Our friend and Congress’s Gig Workforce champion, U.S. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, claims that one-third of our workforce derives income from gigs.

Even at one-out-of-every-three American workers, the current Gig Workforce is indeed formidable. And, today, business and government have no choice but to embrace this trend and render such work a viable and attractive career option.

Last week, Ardent|Partners released its study, The State of Contingent Workforce Management 2016–2017: Adapting to a New World of Work. In its pages, we discover some mind-blowing findings, among them:

  • The role of professional talent in corporate enterprises is changing fast. Ardent|Partners found that nearly two-thirds of organizations are rethinking the role of work. Many corporate leaders now realize that a growing portion of talent who do their work may be non-employee “1099 filers” such as freelancers, independent contractors, or gig workers who do not “[need] to be situated within the realm of traditional, full-time workers.”
  • More enterprises are embracing the notion of on-demand or real-time talent. Nearly 60 percent of them are leveraging social media to embrace a new type of work status and in doing so are “promoting the quality and depth of their talent supply chains, pushing the utilization of new outlets of expertise to drive real business value.”
  • Millennial-aged Gig Talent are highly sought-after workforce members. Nearly two-out-of-three enterprises seek inclusion of Millennials on their teams. According to the study, “Millennials fit into the non-employee workforce and the Gig Economy in the sense that they desire a digital nomadic, flexible lifestyle, which is an ideal attitude for businesses to tab into for contract work.” And…
  • The specialized skill-sets of “agile talent” (particularly consultants) in a non-employee workforce will be leveraged quickly. The study adds that “[agile talent] is founded on the belief that truly strategic freelancers or other types of non-employee talent (consultants) can regularly contribute or even shape critical tasks within the modern organization.”

Well within the New Green Economy, we believe that the most agile of sustainability trained, accredited, and experienced Gig Talent will empower the vast majority of American companies and organizations to, at last, establish and scale corporate sustainability best-practices that will allow their enterprises and brands to achieve Triple Bottom Line gains and render them reliable stewards of resource sustainability and social responsibility.

With exception to companies in the Fortune 500 rankings that already possess large and dynamic sustainability practices, most mid-sized enterprises have resisted corporate sustainability altogether. But we believe that 2017 will be the year that corporate sustainability finally hits its stride. Gig talent with expertise in our fields of study and experience will be in demand to help corporate boardrooms at more enterprises to embrace the Triple Bottom Line. More and more supply chains require it. Consumers want it. And talent — especially Gig Talent — want to make it all happen.

The already formidable Gig Workforce is set to quickly scale large. And our largest generation in the workforce, Millennials, are certain to turn gig work green and sustainable.

And with that we say our best days lie ahead.

Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday, November 8. And, if your state allows you to do so, beat the expected long lines on Election Day by casting your ballot early. Check with your local registrar of voters for early voting places and times of operation.

DAN SMOLEN is executive producer and host of the new professional career empowerment podcast, Green Suits Radio. He is author of Tailoring the Green Suit: Empowering Yourself for an Executive Career in the New Green Economy and member of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). He is also Founder and Managing Director of The Green Suits, LLC, which provides talent recruitment, workforce planning, and success management to green business and social good enterprises.

Photo credits: Gig workers, Getty Images.

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