By 2020, independent workers will be the majority

MBO Partners' Gene Zaino at Net:Work 2011Freelancers, consultants and other independent workers account for 16 million people in the country now and will become a majority by 2020, predicts Gene Zaino, the president and CEO of MBO Partners, which connects independent worker with employers. The company, which recently conducted a survey of independent workers, said that based on existing trends, there is expected to be 65 to 70 million independent workers in the next decade, comprising more than half of all employees.

He said this new era is forcing employees, employers and the government to confront a new reality as solo workers become the norm.

“These individuals — whether crowd-sourced or providing tactical solutions or finding their first project on a marketplace or providing strategic advice to client — these are the pioneers of the next era,” Zaino said at GigaOM’s Net:Work conference.

He said contrary to popular belief, most of the current independent workers (55 percent) choose this route instead of being forced into temporary work. And he said 80 percent of these workers claim they don’t want to go back. And 28 million traditionally employed workers said they want to go independent in the next two years. That might be because 50 percent of traditional workers say they are unhappy with their work situations.

Many independents are not average workers at least in their own eyes. Seven out of ten say they are experts in their field and have advanced skills and education. Zain said companies are turning to these workers not as a low-cost solution but as hired guns who can come in and fix specific problems.

There are still a lot of challenges ahead as this new era takes shape. Employers need to find ways to dole out more work to these independents. And they need to rethink how they look at work, as more of discrete projects to be assigned. And employees need to get used to habit of scrapping for new jobs and dealing without health care and other safety net provisions. Zaino said the government also has to figure out how to deal with a shift in independent workers when it comes to tax income and how to categorize these employees.

There’s still a lot that needs to happen, but this will be the new norm as technology unshackles workers and gives them the opportunity to work from anywhere and be open to jobs from all kinds of employers.

“We’re pretty confident this is new way of work; this independent way of work is here to stay,” Zaino said.

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Photo by Pinar Ozger.