One-Third of Workers are Free Agents - New Study Shows More Workers Choose to be Independent

The days of spending a career with one company and retiring with a gold watch and a stable pension are long gone. Both companies and workers expect that employees will explore their options and have multiple employers throughout their career — and perhaps even multiple careers. A 2015 survey from Kelly Services reinforces just how much the "free agent" mentality has taken over the worldwide employment landscape.

According to Kelly's 2015 Global Free Agent survey, almost one-third of all workers identify as free agents. That status is claimed by 31% of US workers, 34% of Asia-Pacific region workers, and 27% of European workers.

The profile of the independent worker may surprise you. The majority of free agents choose to work as independent contractors. Only 10% of those surveyed said they were independent because they had no other viable choice due to economic conditions, down from the 20% in the 2011 Kelly survey.

75% of free agents choose the lifestyle for some positive aspect — freedom to choose their gigs, flexibility in assignments, and balancing their personal and professional lives. These workers report greater satisfaction in opportunities for advancement, development of necessary skills, and work-life balance. Over half look at free agency as a lifelong career choice instead of a transitional phase.

On average, free agent workers have higher levels of education and well-developed specialized skill sets — as they must have to thrive in that lifestyle. 48% of free agents have graduated college and/or have advanced degrees, and 69% hold a specialized skill set (compared to 59% of the general workforce).

This also explains why free agent workers tend to be experienced workers. Only 26% of Millennials identified as free agent workers as compared to 36% of Baby Boomers. As people progress in their careers, they gain the necessary insight, expertise, and skills to become a free agent in their chosen field. They also appreciate the work-life balance as they age and realize that there is more to life than work, as life does not go on forever.

Unfortunately, there is one other explanation for higher numbers of free agent workers. Both free agent and traditional workers have concerns about job security according to the survey, and workers in their fifties and sixties who are let go from a traditional job can have difficulty finding new positions that can accommodate their salary expectations. Some of these displaced workers are drawn to the free agent lifestyle and find it liberating — if their skills are in demand, they can call the shots in ways that they never could before.

While free agency is found across all industries, it is most prevalent in a few professions that often require technical skills and advanced degrees: IT, engineering, finance/accounting, and education.

Keep in mind that the term "free agent" encompasses many different types of working arrangements. Small business owners and temporary agency workers are both considered free agents, but have very different workstyles, skill sets, and motivations. Yet the common threads for most are that they enjoy what they do and have found the proper work-life balance that fits their needs.

The free agent lifestyle does not work for everybody, and if you are content in a traditional job, there's no reason to consider a switch. However, if you are in a transition stage, consider whether the free agent lifestyle may work for you. Assess your preference and the demand for your skills carefully before you begin. Just because LeBron James can make millions of dollars as a free agent does not mean that you can.

If you are interested in working from home as a free agent, download our free eBook, The Modern Entrepreneur: Secrets to Building a Thriving Business from Home

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