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Taking What They're Gigging: IT, the Gig Economy and You

The so-called "gig economy" is changing the face of professional labor in 2016. Long-term relationships with a single employer are out, abortion for many, while a brave new world of temporary work is the norm.

Gigging guy with laptopWe’re seeing an interesting phenomenon in the workforce today, especially in IT — it’s possible that the 9-to-5 grind is going the way of the dodo. In 2010, Intuit released its 2020 report, in which the tax software company predicted that by that year, contingent workers (part-time, temp and freelance) would make up 40 percent of the world-wide workforce, up from 30 percent in 2005.


As it turns out, that estimation was a bit conservative. We actually reached that mark last year, according to a report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Basically, we’re losing full-time positions, and many of them are being replaced by freelance “gigs.”


Although any from-the-bottom musician will be intimately  familiar with the concept of a “gig,” until now it’s been a lot less common in IT. The basic idea is the same: It’s a short, defined project that you work on as an independent contractor, rather than as an employee. And while freelance work is not uncommon in IT, gigging is a different kind of freelance.


In traditional freelance, you might have a regular client or two who might give you regular or even constant work. As a gigger, the projects are shorter, the clients are most likely less personal, and your client base is wider. In other words, it’s even less like a traditional employer/employee relationship. So, how did we get here?


Forces Behind the Gig Economy


Out of many competing factors, four stand out: Baby Boomers, Millennials, mobility, and recession. As the Baby Boom generation goes into retirement they’re leaving a sizable hole in IT that has been difficult to fill, considering the sheer size of the generation. Many Baby Boomers who have IT experience are opting into semi-retirement, choosing to work odd projects to supplement their income. As a result, many IT employers are rushing to create or expand part-time and freelance opportunities.


This is absolutely OK with a lot of Millennials, who are by and large much less interested in job security and more interested in control and flexibility. Not only are Millennials the first generation raised on (and shaped by) the forces of social media, and also the first generation who can’t remember NOT having instantaneous and (for many) completely mobile connection to the information superhighway, they also began to enter the workforce during a severe economic downturn.


As a result, Millennials are much less trusting of their employers than previous generations, more likely to swap jobs, and much more concerned with their own personal needs than those of a single organization. In short, many Millennials are just fine running their own ship, taking their work piecemeal, and mixing work and personal life, rather than surrendering their independence and time to a corporation.


On the employer side of things, it’s more cost-effective to outsource development and other it “gigs,” ensuring that the company doesn’t pay any more than is strictly necessary, and also that they don’t have under-utilized employees idling between projects. It’s also increasingly viable to hire remote freelancers, who can do their job just as easily over an internet connection regardless of whether they’re down the street or in a land down under.


While it might be more convenient to have your own in-house pros, the economic downturn means that for many businesses, the saved money is worth the hassle.


Benefits and Drawbacks


Gigs have another big advantage for businesses looking to draw talent: Gigs can be very attractive to Millennials. Not only are Millennials much more interested in work/life balance and less trusting of employers, but they also tend to be educated, independent, and purpose-driven. It can be much easier to lure a Millennial with the promise of engaging, challenging work than with the promise of stability.


And because the Millennial generation is so small compared to the generations immediately preceding it, Millennial workers are in high demand.