In 20 or 30 years, if you work for someone else, you may well be in the minority.
More and more employees are migrating toward self-employment. They're willing to give up the security that comes with traditional jobs and look instead for new opportunities as entrepreneurs – business owners who set up and run their own shops, stores and factories; individual freelancers selling products and services to a wide range of customers; and contractors working on both short- and long-term projects. And now these are being joined by a new and growing group – the iPros, highly skilled, independent, self-employed professionals who work for themselves without employing others.
Ten years ago, in 2004, there were 6.2 million of them. Now there are some 9 million, according to Future Working: The Rise of Europe’s Independent Professionals, a report written by Patricia Leighton, professor of European law at the IPAG Business School, France. This 42 percent rise in iPro numbers across the European Union (EU) makes them the fastest growing group of active professionals in the European labor market. In some countries, the UK for instance, growth is even higher at 63 percent through the last 10 years.
In America, policy makers have largely ignored this obviously growing group, so no one is quite sure how many contingency workers there are currently. Government figures put the number at 42.6 million or 30 percent of the workforce in 2006, while a 2010 study by software company Intuit forecast that those numbers would climb to 40 percent by 2020. That's more than 60 million people across all sectors – software, design, marketing, legal services, architecture, healthcare and engineering.
Contingency workers are, in fact, a bright spot in an otherwise sluggish economic recovery, as one-time employees suddenly find there’s life beyond the corporate door and they can be productive and successful without being tied to the apron strings of a long-term, permanent employer.
The trend is now firmly established and clearly isn't just a passing reflection of temporary recessionary conditions in which people can’t get jobs. As Future Working puts it:“Traditional hierarchical organizations are struggling. People are increasingly rejecting traditional employment with its lack of personal control and repression of creativity. New ways of working are emerging, new forms of collaboration, new structures, new alliances and new opportunities.”
For many, looking for a job working for someone else will no longer be the first choice.
Don’t imagine these iPros and contingency workers to be stand-out entrepreneurial material. The next Trump or Branson, they are not. Most likely, just a few years ago, the idea of going into business for themselves wouldn’t have occurred to them. But the world has changed and so has the workplace dynamic. Now people are increasingly reluctant to sit in dusty, windowless cubicles with no control over their working lives and exposed to the whim of the boardroom so that even though the economy is improving on both international and domestic fronts, they still fear for their jobs.
Many also see that their career landscape has shifted. Career ladders are shorter and shakier, with fewer opportunities to climb toward. That’s particularly true for more mature workers, who find positions that once would have been theirs are being filled by more junior – and cheaper – staff. There’s also the sense that life should be more fulfilling than just functioning as a cog in a corporate machine. It’s one reason why more people are starting up values-driven businesses – to make a profit while also doing some good in the world.
And it’s never been easier to start a successful business with relatively little cost or risk. A computer and Internet access have suddenly opened up a world of possibilities, where global markets have suddenly become local. Now, if you have a particular skill, passion or interest, it’s possible to create a niche business that, no matter how specialized, is made viable by being able to cross geographic boundaries online.
With more and more people successfully stepping outside the traditional working world, there are plenty of role models out there to inspire you. If they can do it, so can you.
And with each one that makes it, the social stigma that once surrounded the self-employed – not good enough to get a proper job – evaporates even further. In fact, self-employed entrepreneurs are becoming social heroes: They’re the ones with the courage and ambition to make a better life for themselves.
Will this new way of working suit everyone? No. There will always be those who feel greater comfort when and are better suited to working for others.
But if you’re interested in taking control of your professional life, there’s no need to wait until 2020 to become an iPro, a contingency worker, a freelancer – an entrepreneur. You can do it – right now. And you won’t be alone.