Highly-skilled, independent professionals (freelancers, independent consultants, etc.) who provide services to businesses on a regular basis are, as a group, growing rapidly, according to the third annual Client of Choice studies, recently released by MBO Partners. We asked Steve King, a partner at Emergent Research, and a regular contributor to SmallBusiness.com, to provide us with an overview of this rapid growth. (Note: Steve contributed to the report.

As displayed on this graph, the size of this segment of the U.S. workforce has grown from 4.5 million in 2011 to 7.4 million in 2018.

The growth is seen in diverse segments of the U.S. economy

This rapid growth means it is one of the fastest growing segments of the gig (or sharing) economy. Both supply and demand factors are driving this growth. Here are some of those factors.

  • The battle for talent, shortages of such skilled professionals and the increased need for talent agility and flexibility, are resulting in greater use of external talent.
  • According to the report, supplier SAP Fieldglass and the supply management analyst firm Ardent Partners both found that over 40 percent of the average corporation’s overall workforce is currently comprised of nonemployee labor. (Ten years ago, it was 16 percent.)
  • It’s not just a big industry phenomenon. Small businesses, governments at all levels and non-profit firms are also hiring more independent professionals. 

More highly-skilled workers are opting to be independent professionals

  • Many skilled workers are attracted to the work and life autonomy, flexibility, and control in being an independent worker.
  • This trend towards the growth of independent professionals is so powerful that Deloitte, who refers to these workers “off-balance sheet employees.” calls the growth in their use one of the two most powerful trends currently impacting the future of work—along with artificial intelligence.


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