Plenty of opportunities await professionals who aspire to the flexibility and independence of freelancing. That was the theme of the keynote presentation delivered by Erik Vonk, during the 2012 International Freelancer’s Day Conference held online by the International Freelancer Academy.
Vonk is CEO of Back of The House, a privately held company that offers portable health, retirement, and liability protection to independent professionals. The firm also can handle distracting administrative, accounting, tax, and IT tasks for solopreneurs. Vonk’s speech was titled “How to Thrive as a Free Agent in the Upcoming Era of Independent Work Arrangements.”
The growth of global commerce, online communications, changing demographics, and the speed of technological change have created both confusion and opportunity. In addition, these mega-trends are creating an increasingly dynamic workforce, said Vonk.
Exchanging our competencies for income today is no longer tied to a specific job with a specific employer. Since 1980, the percentage of people who work independently or on a contract or project basis has more than doubled, rising from around 15% in 1980 to 31% in 2011. Over the same period, the average length of time a person held a specific job has declined from about 15 years to less than 4 years.
“So there’s nothing permanent about work anymore,” observed Vonk. Now that organizations are under pressure to have access to talent and competencies on an as-needed basis, he said, “It no longer makes sense for organizations to make open-ended commitments to workers.”
To replace fixed employment costs with the variable expenses associated with contract workers, many companies now use their business plans to determine what kinds of employees they will need and for how long.
To Vonk, this progression is simply part of societal evolution. The way work worked in the past was steeped in the evolution from an agricultural era to the industrial era. In the industrial era, professionals were all dependent on the employer. As workers, our identities, status, security, and destiny in life were all tied to our place of work. As we have evolved through the information age, our identities as workers have become further and further detached from our place of work, and more attached to ourselves, as individuals.
“And that is where we are today, in the conceptual age, where worker identity is attached to the self,” said Vonk. “The worker has become global and independent, and no longer attached and dependent.”
During the heyday of permanent employment, freelancing was often regarded as something to be tolerated if you happened to find yourself between jobs. Freelance work started to become more desirable as people wanted the flexibility to design their work schedules around family life, travel, and personal interests. Now, independent work is becoming something that more and more people are aspiring to.
Vonk acknowledged that some misperceptions still exist about what the U.S. government still calls “the contingent workforce.” The Back of the House website includes a list of Ten Myths and Realities regarding taxes, terminology, and employee quality and loyalty. He advised freelancers to educate themselves about these issues, and discuss them when negotiating contracts for new assignments.
“For all of us who work independently or have plans to work independently,” said Vonk. “This is the era in which to do it.”