In the 19th century, it was the Industrial Revolution.  In the 1950's, it was the shift from blue collar to white collar work. And some are predicting that we are now at the beginning of another workforce revolution: a shift from permanent employment to contingent work.

In his book Labor Rising, The Past and Future of Working People in America (a portion of which was reprinted in the Huffington Post), Richard Greenwald refers to it as the "Gig Economy" where workers "jump from job to job, career to career, project to project working as consultants." He contends that this could be "the most fundamental economic shift of the past 50 years"and compares it to the 1950's when "America became a nation of white-collar workers, leaving behind its blue-collar roots."

“This sea of change has brought with it a new work ethic that values multitasking, embedded communities of workers, the blending of leisure and work activity, and the rise of creativity and independence, along with money as co-measures of success," Greenwald said. "We seem to be returning to a craft sensibility as workers blend leisure and work and work harder, faster, and longer, but also find time to squeeze in a social life, too."

Greenwald estimates that 50% of all workers will be working on a contingent basis by 2020. Thomas Fisher, Dean of the College of Design a the University of Minnesota, cites similar statistics in his article "The Contingent Workforce and Public Decision Making" in the Public Sector Digest. He states that 40-45% of workers will be contingent by 2020, and by 2030, contingent workers will be the majority in what he refers to as the "next economy."

"In this next economy, workers will have much more flexibility in terms of how, when, and where they work, and they will have, over the course of their careers, many professional engagements and even several different careers altogether rather than the long-term, relatively permanent employment of the old economy," Fisher said in the article.

We all know that the use of contingent workers has surged since the recession. Does this mean we are witnessing the start of a revolution? What do you think?

Views: 355

Comment by bill josephson on August 16, 2012 at 9:21am


Excellent post.  You're exactly right.  This trend away from permanent staff adds begun recovery, November 2001, when offshore outsourcing ramped up with technology enabling companies to access cheap intelligent labor globally reducing business cost helping drive increased profit.


Our cost of doing business is too high here in the US including taxes, government regulations, and government mandates.  Businesses respond by either sending work overseas, insourcing H1B visa workers, forming international partnerships bringing in L1 (Intercompany Transfer) visa workers, and/or having a tight core of "rain maker" permanent staff supplemented by contractor/part time people required for a time period but who they don't want added to payroll.

It's too expensive/not cost effective for them to ramp up payrolls in the US.  So if you're a star, you get hired full time.  If a steady average worker, it's contractor or part time or maybe temp to perm.


It's one factor why perm placement, for me, has been tough for a while.  Few good fillable jobs to work on that companies can'f find on their own.  Getting the hard to impossble to fill positions, instead.

Comment by Jim Wood on August 16, 2012 at 9:33am

The article raised another question in my does a candidate present his resume in a positive manner if he is a contingent worker and has moved from project to project?  Many hiring managers and recruiters review a resume as such and dismiss the candidate as not having job security, poor job performance, or a job "hopper". 

Comment by bill josephson on August 16, 2012 at 9:42am

Jim, in my experience if it's for a full time position the contractor is often looked upon with suspicion by the hiring manager, concerned the person will be gone the moment they find another contracting gig applying for this position cause they're without an assignment presently.

If the manager has a contractor's background, they'll generally be more accepting. 

But most don't, so I find them less forgiving

Comment by Sandra McCartt on August 16, 2012 at 4:46pm

I think when this bomb throwing, mud slinging election is over we will see fewer and fewer contingent jobs and more perm jobs.  IT may be the one off due to the nature of the beast but even my clients who have been going the temp to perm route are only doing so because they don't know what is going to shake out with healthcare costs, taxes and regulations.  They have not been able to get the quality of employee that they would like to have on that basis so are now starting to shift to perm hires.

It is a problem for someone who has been doing contract to convince an employer that they will be stable.  My clients run backwards from someone who has been a contractor for any length of time.  They do not have as much problem with someone who says, "I have been working contract gigs because i have not been able to find perm. since the bottom dropped out."

Comment by Maya Saric on September 18, 2012 at 10:07pm

Hi Debbie, you've hit a good point here. I agree, the nature of careers as we know it is changing. Stabilty and security is gone. Further, thanks to Social Media and the Internet, working offshore is a growing trend. I wonder what "career" in the future will be.

Comment by bill josephson on September 18, 2012 at 10:16pm

Maya, I wonder the same thing.

When clients say they can find people without me accessing the Internet specially LinkedIn, not hiring here but hiring 200 people in India, and the jobs they need help on are one in a million I wonder if it's simply a tough economy or I'm doing something wrong. 

Perm seems to be dwindling as companies hang onto and only want a core of rain makers while everyone else is laid off replaced by contractors they don't have to add to payroll due to high cost of doing business.

Good post, IMO


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