You see them in every airport in America. Flying out on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning, heading for work. Flying back home on Thursday night, ready for a weekend of home and family. Some live in extended-stay hotels, others have apartments during the week, homes-away-from-homes. They manage extended and short-term projects, consult for various industries, and provide outsourced labor services that aren’t offered by the companies which they serve.
The industry is growing so quickly, that some large companies are hiring permanent staffers who do nothing but oversee the non-permanent workers.
There’s even an accreditation to become a Certified Contingent Workforce Professional.
Competition for top talent is increasing.
In the third quarter of 2012 (and we must assume that the numbers have continued to rise), 2.95 million people were employed by US companies as contingent workers every single business day. Approximately 16% of the US workforce now comes under this categorization – and that’s expected to rise to 20% (some say as high as 40 – 60%) in the next few years.
Millennials and Baby Boomers are fueling this growth, with flexibility as the driver. Millennials expect a flexible work environment, and many aren’t keen about entering the 9 – 5 world. In addition, their entrepreneurial spirits enjoy the freedom of setting their own career course, moving from one job to another. Boomers caught between work and aging parents find it increasingly hard to squeeze caretaking into a 40-hour workweek. Many Boomers are looking for a way to make a living in a world that seems increasingly loathe about hiring older workers. Others might still have a lot to give – but might not necessarily have the desire to do that giving 40+ hours a week anymore. Contingent work is the answer.
The IRS is stepping up scrutiny of this group, concerned that employers are trying to shirk taxes by moving their workforces away from the land of the W-2. And indeed, if the employer is hiring someone to be onsite every day, someone whose workday is directed, who is instructed how to do their job by someone on the employer’s staff, who receives vacation and sick pay – they should most likely receive that W-2. They’re called an employee.
But if the contractor sets their own hours, is pretty much self-supervised, provides their own direction and expertise, supplies their own working tools, pays their own healthcare and employment taxes – in general, serves as a set-apart part of the team – then you’re talking contingent labor. The distinction is important – and it’s critical to be ever-mindful of it. Fines are steep.
I’ve lived in this contract labor world for 3.5 years now. Sure, keeping your project pipeline full can be stressful – but any of the commissioned salespeople that I coach can tell you the same thing about their desks!
Buying your own healthcare insurance is incredibly expensive – but since the passage of the ACA, it’s a lot better than it used to be.
After the flexibility, having a variety of work experiences is the best benefit. As a consultant/coach/outsourced staff – fill in the title blank – I’ve been able to employ literally every skill that I’ve learned through a full career in public broadcasting marketing, development and sales, commercial advertising, ad agency media buying – plus all the writing I’ve done, continuing education courses I’ve taken, and so much more. In any given day, I might be planning a pledge drive, writing a membership letter, coaching a sales person, crunching numbers for “media math” or planning a generational workshop. It’s certainly not a recipe for boredom!
And that’s critical for both Boomers and Millennials, the two generations who can’t stand boredom. As the American workforce makes it ever easier to make your own hours and to create your own job, the numbers of contingent workers will only rise. And as they do, more companies will discover the benefits of augmenting their full-time workforce with contingent workers who can manage short-term projects, teach new performance skills, and take over outsourced job functions.