Jobs In The Pandemic: More Are Freelance And May Stay That Way Forever

There is a saying these days: the future of work is now being driven into high gear by the pandemic that suddenly turned millions into virtual workers. But the coronavirus has also accelerated a significant shift to freelance work that is severing the relationships between companies and employees.

According to a new study by Upwork, a freelance job platform, two million Americans started freelancing in the past 12 months. And that has raised the percentage of the workforce who work freelance to 36%.

During the booming pre-pandemic job market, many workers chose freelance or contract jobs because they preferred the flexibility and diversity they offered.

But now there is evidence that many workers choose to freelance rather than voluntarily on a necessity basis. Employers have cut millions of permanent full-time jobs. Freelance work, with all of its insecurities like no benefits and unpredictable income, has often become a means of survival.

Diana Gill was an editor at major New York publishers for 24 years. But in April, when she was having coffee in the early morning, three chat requests and one email came from the best brass players. Could she get a call to the company’s president?

“Of course I knew what that meant,” she says. She has been fired from her job as Editor-in-Chief at Tor Books. Gill was given a month’s notice and there was still a lot of work left on her plate. So your new reality did not register at first. “So it was like going, going, going and then it was May and I was like, hmm, well, there is COVID, so there are definitely no jobs this minute.”

Then it sank: she was a freelancer. The certainty of being deeply connected to an organization for so many years was gone. Editing book manuscripts is a special skill and Gill has contacts in the field so she has been quite busy so far. But she understands how quickly that could change that freelance income and appearances are often completely unpredictable.

“Freelancing is a festival or a famine. So it comes in waves. And I know that at some point there will be less of it. So I think about what to do and how it works as a company,” she says.

Making it work as a business, becoming a free agent, that is the challenge, the predicament, however you want to put it, in the face of many Americans. Thrown out of constant full-time work into the much less secure world of freelancers.

Julia Pollak, labor economist at the ZipRecruiter construction site, says that job postings on the construction site have shifted dramatically from permanent to temporary. “The percentage increases are alarmingly high,” she says.

Almost immediately after the pandemic, the percentage of temporary bookings rose from 24% to 34%. And despite the recovery in the labor market, the proportion of temporary jobs remains high, according to Pollak.

In certain occupations, the shift to temporary or freelance workers was even greater. “Before COVID, for example, the proportion of temporary job postings in communications was only 12%,” says Pollak. By April it was four times higher. The proportion of temporary marketing jobs rose from 8% to 28%. Advertising and personnel jobs are also converted into temporary or freelance positions.

Some of this shift is predictable. When the economy is shaky and the outlook is uncertain, employers are reluctant to hire permanent employees. But something else is also happening.

Tools like Zoom, which have flourished during the pandemic, are adding flexibility to the workplace. Employees can be taken care of anytime, anywhere by any capable person with a phone and laptop. Such jobs are not tied to the office, so employees do not establish personal connections with their superiors.

“I think now a lot of companies are starting to think, ‘Hey, maybe we don’t really need these full-time workers,'” says Stephanie Caudle, founder of Black Girl Group, an online freelance recruitment agency.

“I think now these companies are starting to see, ‘Hey, having these people at home saves me money. Hey, I don’t see these people, so do I really need to give them advantages?’ “”

At the start of the pandemic, massive job losses were concentrated in tourism, travel and restaurants. But over the months the ax fell on a multitude of employees. And some workplace experts say that many permanent employees are now being taken care of by contractors – probably forever.

Starting a freelance career after you’ve been laid off isn’t something people volunteer to do, says Caudle. “You almost inevitably start freelancing. You don’t have time to cry or feel down or depressed because you lost your job. You still have bills to pay. And those bills don’t care that you lost your job . “

Futurists have long predicted that America would become a free agent nation with workers offering their services independently and branding themselves full-time permanent jobs for landgigs and deals. That happened in parts of the economy, but not at the hyperspeed predicted by the futurists.

But now the coronavirus is accelerating the pace, says Lara Vandenberg, founder of Publicist, an online marketplace for marketing and communication work. “We just saw this trend accelerate completely. What we expected in three years, happened in three months,” says Vandenberg.

The freelance economy was huge before the pandemic and is growing all the time. Upwork says it now adds $ 1.2 trillion to the US economy – 22% more than in 2019. And the Upwork study claims that 60% of post-COVID-19 freelancers say no amount of money is getting them would convince them to take a traditional job.

A completely different picture emerges on the ZipRecruiter construction site. “The vast majority – 90% of active ZipRecruiter job seekers – are looking for a permanent full-time position,” says Pollak. And most workers want a job with perks like health care, purpose, and mission where they make real connections with employees, she says.

Copyright 2020 NPR. More information is available at https://www.npr.org.

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April 7, 2021