Is Free Agency For You?

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It’s a major trend, and one way or another, it may affect your career.

The work world is changing. If you’re working, you probably already know that. However, an ongoing study by Kelly Services has brought to light the speed and significance of that change.

Especially in the last three years, the trend has been toward free agents — those independents, freelancers, contract employees, entrepreneurs and workers who move from project to project or from location to location. The days of the traditional 9-to-5, full-time, often-lifelong employees are dwindling.

The Kelly Services study found a 70 percent jump in the number of free agents from 2008 to 2011. The percentage of workers who classify themselves as free agents rose from 26 percent to 44 percent.

And while baby boomers are driving this trend, the increase is consistent across all generations. According to the study, 49 percent of boomers and 25 percent of Gen Y are free agents.

As a job seeker, there are two things you may want to keep in mind concerning this trend.

1. If you’re seeking a full-time position with benefits, know that there are others out there offering to do the same job on a freelance basis. They can offer some tantalizing advantages to the employer: savings on office space and on health-care benefits and other insurance costs. If it’s a full-time, on-site salaried position you’re seeking, you may need to sell your potential employer on the value of having a dedicated staffer on hand.

2. On the other hand, maybe you, too, want to consider the free-agent route.

“To many young people, free agency is a foreign concept. They may not be aware of the various ways that work is getting done in today’s business world,” says Jocelyn Lincoln, vice president, recruitment operations, Americas region, for Kelly Services, and co-author of the research report “The New Workforce: Insights into the Free Agent Workstyle.”

According to the Kelly Services study, the trend toward free agency is in part driven by corporate downsizing. However, it’s interesting to note that overall job satisfaction is higher among free agents than among traditional workers. The study showed that 73 percent of all free agents choose their own lifestyle, and that 38 percent believe economic conditions have enhanced their opportunities to work as a free agent.

When asked why they chose the free agent lifestyle, only 25 percent said economic necessity; 58 percent cited freedom, flexibility and opportunities — the freedom to choose interesting or rewarding work, the flexibility to work your own hours at a location of your choosing, and the opportunity to be your own boss, to set your own pace, to chart your own course.

What can a young person do to become a free agent?

“It’s typically easier for an older worker to tap a career full of contacts to ease into free agency, but younger workers can leverage their social media skills to build their network of contacts,” says Lincoln.

“Also, it can be a wise strategy to accept lateral moves to broaden your base of knowledge. We’re starting to see a trend of more young people pursuing entrepreneurial paths.”

For more insights into this different way of approaching a career, Lincoln suggests two books by Dan Pink: Free Agent Nation and A Whole New Mind. Also, the Kelly Services research on free agency is available through www.kellyservices.com.

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