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The future of work – more freelancers?

April 24, 2019

By Heather Nezich, courtesy SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Upwork and Freelancers Union recently released the results of “Freelancing in America: 2018” (FIA), the most comprehensive measure of the U.S. independent workforce. The fifth annual study estimates that 56.7 million Americans freelance, an increase of 3.7 million in the past five years. ​ ​

Key findings reveal:

Americans are spending more time freelancing: Average weekly hours spent freelancing increased 72 million hours per week from 998 million in 2015 to more than one billion hours per week of freelancing in 2018.

Technology is making it easier to find work: 64% of freelancers found work online, a 22-point increase since 2014.

Lifestyle matters most: Both freelancers and non-freelancers prioritize achieving the lifestyle that they want but freelancers are more likely to get it. ​ 51% of all freelancers say no amount of money would get them to take a traditional job.

Freelancers place more value on skills training: ​93% of freelancers with a four-year college degree said training was useful versus only 79% who said their college education was useful to the work they do now.  70% of full-time freelancers participated in skills training in the past six months compared to only 49% of full-time non-freelancers.

“Freelancers play a critical role in our economy and in shaping the future of work,” said Stephane Kasriel, President and CEO of Upwork. “Despite an economic boom, which has created a record number of full-time, 9-to-5 job openings, Americans are increasingly choosing to freelance. At the same time, technology is freeing people from the archaic time and place work constraints that are no longer necessary for today’s mostly knowledge-based work. This year’s results reveal that most workers prioritize lifestyle over earnings, but freelancers are much more likely to actually attain the life they want. Professionals with the most in-demand skills will therefore increasingly choose to freelance.”

Additional findings include:

Growth Over Time

More than one in three (35%) Americans freelanced this year. The freelance workforce grew from 53 million to 56.7 million, or 7%, in five years. The non-freelance U.S. workforce grew just 2% (from 103 million to 105.3 million) in five years, making the freelance workforce’s rate of growth much faster.

Over the last five years, people are increasingly starting to freelance by choice. Asked whether they started freelancing more by choice or necessity, 61% of freelancers said by choice — up eight points (from 53%) since 2014.

This is driven by growth among younger generations and full-time freelancers (as opposed to part-time freelancers). ​ The younger generations are freelancing more than any other generation in the workforce.  Full-time freelancers now make up 28% of freelancers (up 11 points since 2014). ​


Freelancers are more likely to find skill-related training valuable to the work they do now rather than a college education.
Freelancers are more proactively updating their skills to remain marketable as the job market evolves compared to non-freelancing workers​.  70% of full-time freelancers participated in skills training in the past six months, compared to 49% of full-time non-freelancers.

Freelancers are seeking training to enhance their skills in areas that affect freelancers most: technology, networking and business management.

Cost is a barrier for many (53%) freelancers to access training, particularly because freelancers are more likely than non-freelancers to pay for training themselves.

Understanding the freelancing lifestyle: Drivers and barriers

Freelancers feel anxious about all they have to manage, but they also have a better work-life balance with more control over one’s own destiny and schedule, resulting in less stress and better health. ​

42% of freelancers agree that freelancing gives them the flexibility they need because they are unable to work for a traditional employer ​because of personal circumstances (health issues, childcare needs, etc.).​

Looking ahead

More than three in four report that technology has made it easier to find freelance work. The percentage of work they obtained online increased for 67% of freelancers this year.

Freelancers are optimistic about the future of freelancing – nearly nine in 10 see the industry’s best days ahead.
The future of work is changing.  To keep up employers should consider working with freelancers and consider more flexible work arrangements for current employees.

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