What do a bicycle courier, a data scientist and an illustrator have in common? While their daily tasks could not be further apart, they share a single status: that of freelancer. According to recent figures, freelancing concerns 2.7 million workers in France, i.e. 10% of the total labor force. That’s quite a lot of people, but far fewer than in the USA, where 40% of workers have chosen to go freelance. And it does not stop there: studies have predicted that freelancers will represent the majority of the American workforce by 2027 (see Freelancing in America, Upwork, 2017). That’s quite a paradigm shift. Yet independent workers remain a relatively misunderstood crowd, and the freelancer status covers many realities — and just as many misconceptions.
THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG: THE GIG ECONOMY
English-speaking societies have dubbed the rise of independent work “the gig economy” — a term encompassing the myriad of small jobs relying on freelance status (the “gigs”), whose numbers have widely increased with the advent of companies such as Deliveroo and Uber. For this new generation of businesses that specialize in selling micro-services, independent contractors make for a large and affordable workforce. However, even though demand for freelancers has never been higher, the low skills required and the high number of hands (or legs) available have led to a decrease in prices. What matters to a client in the gig economy is the service provided, not the freelancer. At the other end of the spectrum, the “talent economy” functions in the exact opposite way.
THE INDIVIDUALS AT THE HEART OF THE TALENT ECONOMY
For all the talk about Uber drivers and bicycle couriers, low-skilled workers are not the main force behind the freelancing boom. Figures speak for themselves: 90% of independent contractors have actually chosen their status, as opposed to being forced to it by economic necessity (see Freelancing in France, HopWork/OuiShare 2017). Some have quit their jobs. Others have given up on a corporate career. Many young graduates will never know salaried work. Their choice for independence stems from a will to base their career on what they can do, but above all on what they love doing. The talent economy is thus made up of a pool of specialized freelancers who often count among the best experts in their respective fields who have chosen to center their professional lives on fulfilment and personal growth.
TALENTS HAVE THE UPPER HAND
Unlike the gig economy, which is based on a variety of platforms designed to address an increasing range of needs through decreasing service costs, the talent economy focuses on competence over price, and freelancers themselves get to write their own price tags. On comet, we ask tech/data freelancers to specify their Average Daily Rate (ADR) with complete transparency. The talent economy thus gives freelancers the ability to focus on projects that matter to them, and even to select their clients in the longer run.
TWO NEW ECONOMIES, ONE UNDERLYING CAUSE
The growth of both economies stems from the fact that, more often than not, traditional 9-to-5 jobs have become insufficient. Cases abound of “burn-out”, “bore-out”, “brown-out”, and other diseases endemic to the salaried world. The massive surge in popularity of the two main figureheads of independence — entrepreneurs and craftspeople — is another reason underlying the current love for freelancing. It is not rare anymore for salaried workers to do some freelancing on the side. This is called pluriactivity and many wage-earners see this as a first step towards complete (and often definitive) independence.
FREELANCERS + CORPORATIONS: A WIN-WIN STRATEGY
Businesses now have to adapt to these changes in the makeup of the workforce. Many questions remain, among which the level of support and security that should be given to independent workers. Above all things, corporations must start viewing the talent economy as a true opportunity — not a threat — in their constant search for A-players. A renewed collaboration between businesses and freelancers would actually benefit both parties: the latter would enjoy steadier revenues, while the former would gain easy access to a pool of talented contractors available on demand.
It is also essential to note that the fate of freelancers does not solely lies with the private sector. Access to housing, social security and professional support for independent workers are major issues that public institutions should tackle without delay. The independent talents of today and tomorrow are bound to become key for countries to stay competitive. Laws should therefore be adapted to attract and retain them.