The rise and rise of the independent professional sector

The way we worked: Adjusting expectations.

The nostalgic notion of graduating college and joining a firm or company for life is all but dead and gone. This is not news. It is reality for millions of workers in the world today. Permanent contracts seem illusive and sought after from those emerging from college undergrads, but the reality is that myself and my graduating class will not work with one firm for life unless they are drawn to the security of the civil service in some way, shape or form. For those who work in the private sector, we already know what is happening: freelancing, consulting and job hopping.

A job for life stirs the idyllic image of 1950’s wholesome American propaganda completed with a white picket fence. It is what many have been taught is the most desirable and conventional way to work. Yet according to global trends we are far more lightly to be working, as a freelancer, consultant or independent professional. Although this way of working may not be as secure as many anticipated initially, the future is still bright and thoroughly lucrative.

Where did this trend emerge from? Where have all those permanent safe jobs which we aspired to for years gone? In the not too distant past, the global recession of 2007 millions of people were made redundant and let go. That time stands out in people’s minds as a dark time. Millions of seasoned professionals who had practiced in their fields for scores of years were suddenly chucked out of their desks for life. These professionals still had essential skills required by society. Skills which proved to be irreplaceable. The western world was engulfed in the first recession of my generation. Doom and gloom over took every news outlet. People were losing their jobs, homes and letting go of their long held expectations of secure employment. Yet, one thing bucked all trends at the time: the internet. Usage was growing year by year. In September 2005 there was 14.9% world penetration of the internet by June 2012 the penetration was 34.3% (Internet World Stats). In spite of the crippling global economy technology, the internet still steadily progressed.

The internet gave independent professionals and freelancers the opportunity to work from their home and laptop. Email and IM were becoming more and more commonplace. International boarders, time and cost were being diminished in light of the new technology. The full potential of this interconnectivity is something that still has to be realised. With excellent tools to manage international teams, for the first time teams are not located in one place. Email and instant messaging made it possible to for independent workers the chance to work global stage like never before. For the first time it was not incomprehensible for an SME to be working on that scale with the help of global ecommerce.

These trends resulted in the rapid emergence of the independent professional. According to several reports (Freelancing in America: A national Survey of the New Workforce, Future Working and Intuit 2020 Report, to name but a few) this is the fastest growing labour sector both in the US and Europe.

“By the beginning of 2013, five years since the onset of the recession, there had been a loss of around seven million jobs across the European Union. On average, one in ten people were left without work, with countries such as Spain and Greece facing much higher unemployment rates. Yet one part of the labor market bucked this trend.”

Future Working: The Rise of Europe’s Independent Professionals

So, looking at my potential future career and those of my peers and colleagues, the future looks different to what I was told by the movies and sold by society. In fact the future looks more diverse, interesting and dynamic.

The opportunities outweigh the challenges for this growing labor segment and there are many advantages to being an independent professional which we will investigate in Part 2 of our 4 part series on The Rise and Rise of the Independent Professional Sector.