The gig economy: a labor force for the future

The ratio of unemployed high-earners to low-earners is wider now than it has been in a decade. Similarly, during the Great Depression, the unemployment rate for those earning less than $20,000 was close to 21% — that stat nearly matches the current figure for low-earners.

But from where I stand, there’s hope. A new force of entrepreneurial labor is emerging: The Gig Economy. This revolution could soon represent up to 50 percent of the US workforce.

For many, business success was traditionally measured by the time spent at one company and the ultimate climb up the corporate ladder. The Gig Economy, however, takes a different view. In this economy, there is a shift in attitude and motivation.

In the wake of the Great Recession, consulting or freelancing for five businesses at the same time is a badge of honor. It illustrates the value and experience an individual can bring to several projects. Many companies now look to these “ultimate professionals” to solve problems their full-time teams can’t. Or they save money by hiring “top-tier experts” only for particular projects.

In fact, I believe this trend could be the thing that saves the American worker.

A look back

My father, for instance, is a successful senior executive in the semiconductor industry. In 35 years, he worked for only three companies. My own career, however, has proved different. For me, if you weren’t changing companies every three or four years, you simply weren’t getting ahead in your career.

And still, a short time ago the title “freelancer” or “consultant” wasn’t accepted the way it is today in American society. Back then, these “unprofessional professionals” were seen as less-than-desirable employees.

Today, a goal for many millennials is to work at home, or in local cafes; to start businesses with teams of digital freelancers, and to launch companies without fear of failure. Desired traits in businesses are now adaptability, initiative, and creativity. In order to swim, one must avoid sinking – the American worker has to find alternative ways to create success, both financially and personally.

A balance of tradition, innovation, hard work, and great benefits are all crucial in business today. A balance of work and play has always been necessary, but to create a work environment and business venture that is based around individual passion leads only to increased productivity, focus, and client value.

What’s next

Who are the people of The Gig Economy? They’re artists and designers. They’re writers, editors and translators, animators, videographers, and sound professionals. They’re programmers, DBA’s, and Q&A experts, and they’re providers of office services and career advice. They are our friends, and our kids. And in a decade, I think they will be nearly everyone.

Digital platforms, in 2013 and the coming years, can become the home base of an individual’s personal brand and professional identity. Business community, experience, and skills can all develop through the Internet and these advanced technologies. A community will build where the culture and value of a Gig Economy is reinforced and where honest businesses and services are rewarded with positive reviews.

Over time, as the traditional skeleton for business success diminishes, these digital platforms have the opportunity to bridge “old school” enterprises and the emerging Gig Economy. Perhaps most importantly, as the global economy continues to be disrupted, the Gig Economy will become an engine of economic and social transformation — giving workers, everywhere, a breathe of fresh air.

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