What rural communities are not seeing
My youngest daughter is learning to drive a car for the first time. Thinking back to my driving lessons reminded me of my driver education instructor, an older lady, (although I’m second guessing her age now — she might not have been that old) who impressed upon her students the importance of checking your blind spot. I’ll never forget the first time I changed lanes without checking it — I got a surprising smack across the top of my head. “You didn’t turn your head — you have to turn your head and look out the side window.” Needless to say, I only had to learn that lesson once to remember to turn my head. For some students it took longer.
I have to say I had no idea what I was supposed to see when I did turn my head. I thought between my peripheral vision and my mirror checks that I was pretty safe to turn. For the longest time that blind spot check was nothing but a physical reflex from my driving instruction. Then, one day, there it was — an entire car — previously hidden from my view but right beside me. It was only at that moment that I was thankful for the lesson — the natural consequence of not learning it would have been a car accident.
We are all living with blind spots in our lives. We look forward and we occasionally check our mirrors and look behind us but how many of us actually turn to look sideways to check our “blind spot?” Just because something isn’t in our direct view, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.
In our rural communities, that blind spot is hiding an entire workforce that is heading in the same direction and on the same road. That metaphorical car is full of independent professionals or “freelancers” and they are predicted to make up half of our entire workforce within a decade.
Our economic landscape is changing — period. For the most part, rural communities are still holding onto improvement offers when they should be exploring new opportunities. Freelancers represent a new opportunity and a potential way forward for our declining populations and shrinking tax bases.
19% of all freelancers are already in our rural communities but most municipalities have no idea who they are, where they are coming from or what they want. Getting up to speed on this group is so important. They are, by and large, young professionals bringing with them new money and their own jobs. They are happy, well paid and choosing where to live.
According to new data from Freelancing in America 2018, (a study conducted by an independent research firm and commissioned in partnership by Upwork and Freelancers Union) positive geographic and economic impacts are likely to result with increased numbers of freelancers.
· 85% of freelancers feel that people will move to areas that cater to their lifestyles rather than being stuck in a location where their traditional employer is.
· 84% of freelancers believe that people will live in places of their choice, rather than urban job centres, distributing economic opportunity more broadly.
Some more data from the study:
· 45% of workers between 18–21 years of age freelance and 42% of workers between 22–34 years of age freelance.
· 84% of full-time freelancers state that their work allows them to live the lifestyle they want compared with 63% of full time employees.
· The number of high-earning freelancers has grown 15 percentage points since 2014.
· The majority of those who left a job to freelance say that they make more now than they did with an employer — 77% said they earned more in less than a year.
· 51% of freelancers said there is no amount of money where they would take a traditional job.
According to the study, government should be watching this blind spot closely as well, as freelancers are significantly more politically active. 65% of freelancers agree that, “policy makers should work to better understand the freelance workforce and its economic impact.”
There are many more reasons why building a strategy around attracting, retaining and creating independent professionals is important for rural communities (helping businesses scale, diversifying workforce ecosystems, bridging the rural-urban divide, and creating flexible options for everyone) but it all starts with knowing what’s in our blind spot (before we get a smack in the head.)