In the new world order where formal work structures and hierarchies are being dismantled, it may be useful to proactively think about the impact of the future of work on the executive education market.
Today, freelancers represent 35 percent of the United States workforce. In the European Union, the rate is 16.1 per cent. Both figures demonstrate the same global trend: from creative entrepreneurs to those paid by the task, freelancing is on the rise worldwide.
So, too, are analyses of this phenomenon, as journalists, sociologists, human resources specialists, life coaches, even freelancers themselves try to uncover “the truth” about freelancing.
That’s because of the “gig economy”, as it is sometimes called, is a Janus-faced – and relentlessly evolving – phenomenon. Freelancing is often portrayed as liberating, empowering, and even glamorous, but the reality is far more complex.
In OECD countries, studies show that these individuals work chiefly in the service sector (50 per cent of men and 70 per cent of women). The remainder is everything from online assistants to architects, designers and photographers.
A recent study shows that the majority of freelancers in OECD countries are “slashers”, meaning that their contract work supplements another part-time or full-time position.
Perhaps the most glamorous face of freelancing is the so-called creative class, an agile, connected, highly educated and globalised category of workers that specialise in communications, media, design, art and tech, among others sectors.
They are architects, web designers, bloggers, consultants and the like, whose job it is to stay on top of trends. The most cutting-edge among them end up playing the role of social “influencers”.
In London, this group has been partially responsible for what the economist Douglas McWilliams has dubbed the “flat-white economy”, a flourishing, coffee-fuelled market based on creativity, which combines innovative approaches to business and lifestyle.
Such hipsters, who are also referred to as “proficians”, may be relatively successful in their self-employment, with numerous gigs and a wide portfolio of clients. For McWilliams, they just might represent the future of British prosperity.
Also working hard, though in a much less exalted fashion, are the “precarians”. These task-tacklers work long hours carrying our repetitive tasks, often for a single online platform like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Most of their gigs do not require a high level of expertise and creativity, and are thus easily interchangeable.
Freelancers constitute a diverse population of workers – their educational backgrounds, motivations, ambitions, needs, and willingness to work differ from one worker to the next, and it is accordingly difficult for commentators to accurately represent their diversity without resorting to caricature.
Freelancing is increasingly a choice that people make in order to escape the 9-to-5 workday.
Written by Anthony Hussenot, Maitre de conférences en théories des organisationset management, Université Paris Dauphine. This article is published in collaboration with The Conversation.