Over the last decade, freelance work has continued to gain in popularity all over the world. In the United States, 53 million people are doing freelance work, with that figure expected to increase by 50% by 2020. In the UK, freelance work has grown by 14% in the last decade and in Asia, freelance jobs currently account for 12.5% of the workforce.
As a member of Gen Y myself, there are key advantages that I see with freelancing – the ability to work for multiple employers, maximise the use of my creativity and have autonomy over my own work. However, when considering whether or not I want to freelance myself I must also examine the downsides – lack of job security, the requirement for a high amount of self-discipline, the potential for less collaboration with others and more. With these advantages and disadvantages in mind, I began wondering whether people actually entered freelance work by choice or because they could not find permanent full-time employment.
In the United Kingdom, freelance work is increasingly being perceived as an attractive career choice. In fact, a study on freelance work by Elance indicated that 87% of students with first or second-class degrees found freelancing to be highly attractive. Interestingly though, they found that students with lower class degrees were less inclined to think positively about freelance work. Perhaps the risk that comes with freelance work and the need to seek ones own clients, makes those with lower qualifications more apprehensive to follow a freelance career path? That being said, the study highlighted the overall positive feelings towards freelance for the majority of Gen Y members. This makes sense to me as job ideals have shifted further and further away from the standard 9-5 in the last few decades. The popularity of entrepreneurial television shows such as ‘Dragon’s Den’ and ‘The Apprentice’ illustrate this growing desire for autonomy over one’s work for our generation, as well.
Freelance has a whole range of appeals for different groups of people. The 2012 Industry Report by the Freelance Academy examined differences between age groups, for example and found that respondents in their 20s found the higher income potential rewarding. For this age group, a regular company job would be very hierarchical, limiting them financially, because of their age and the societal structures around job progression. In turn, people in their 30s valued the flexibility of freelance work. One reason for this is that the lack of schedule rigidity allows people who have children to spend more valuable time with them. Those in their 60s articulated the importance of working from home which again demonstrated a different appeal of freelance work.
With gender, the study found that women enjoyed the flexibility and incorporation of passion in freelance work. However, men stated that the primary appeal was being able to be ones own boss. Living in a time where the gender binary continues to be challenged, I believe that these appeals by gender will become interchangeable over time, further increasing the overall interest in freelance careers.
The most conclusive statistic taken from this study was that only 2% of freelancers would take a full-time job over freelancing. In fact, over 50% of freelancers, wouldn’t want to give up freelancing, regardless of the alternative option. With these statistics in mind, freelance work is a very appealing career option for Gen Y members as well as everyone else in society. I think it is important for companies to consider how best to incorporate or compete with freelance workers, in the future.