Jobs are changing, and so is the language we use to talk about them. Flexibility has been a watchword, and perhaps sometimes an abstract principle, for a long time, but it is now more prevalent in practice. The contingent workforce – people available for finite or specific tasks and projects – is a growing and recognised phenomenon.
Much of this new and developing world of work is covered by the familiar label of “the gig economy”. And for many that phrase summons up the image of a minicab driver or a delivery worker, bringing packages or hot food to homes and workplaces. But that image creates a misleading impression of the sort of work that is being done in large parts of the economy. According to the 2017 RSA Good Gigs report, 59% of such “gig” workers in the UK are involved with professional, IT or creative work; only 16% are drivers or delivery people.
Clearly there are many different kinds of gig out there. And what Chris Tchen, a senior consultant with Eden McCallum, calls the “jigsaw” nature of teams and projects means that independent professional resources can be called upon at any time to help businesses make changes and complete tasks.
This year’s survey confirms that this new way of working is firmly embedded. We researched the views and experiences of 307 independent consultants working in the US and Europe, and for comparison another 94 employed consultants in traditional firms.
We found that independent consulting is offering an attractive, sustainable and in many cases preferable career path for talented professionals. The work, they tell us, is more satisfying and has greater impact. It is a “win-win” as clients benefit from higher quality work and better value for money. There is no drop in earnings for most independents, and in many cases incomes are higher, despite working fewer days (on average, 180 per year of which 135 are billable). There is more flexibility and control for consultants, and higher gratification. It is particularly attractive for women, who also get paid their proper rate and close the gender pay gap. Millennials prefer the autonomy and flexibility as well.
Over two thirds of respondents who know their plans intend to remain independent for the next three years at least, a far higher proportion than when we first asked independents about their plans in 2002. For consultants and clients alike, this is a serious alternative to working with a traditional firm.