A Tale of Two Workforces: Freelancers en Marché!


Malik Zakaria


January 23, 2018

The statistics emerging last year about the size of the freelance market in the USA should have come as no surprise to anyone that has studied the US Labor market. After all, Forbes predicted back in 2016 that freelancers would soon represent around 35 percent of the US workforce.

Commissioned by the Freelancers Union of America, the 2017 study of the US Labor market, not only confirmed that number was reached, it showed that the speed of growth in the freelance market puts the rest of the US workforce in the shade. Should the current trend continue, it predicts that US freelance workforce will outnumber its paid employee counterpart by 2027.

The report revealed that the US freelance workforce grew by 8 percent in the year to pass 57 million workers. It was also estimated to have contributed some $1.4 trillion to the US market – an increase of almost 30 percent year-on-year. In contrast, the employed US workforce grew by only 2.6 percent in the same period.

In addition, freelancing is increasingly becoming a lifestyle choice. The large majority of freelancers now opt to make the move by choice – some 63 percent – while the number doing so out of necessity (usually redundancy etc.) has fallen significantly.

The changing dynamic of this tale of two workforces is not simply a US-market phenomenon. In the UK, the freelancing community is now the fastest growing segment of the country’s ‘self-employed’ industry and was estimated to contribute some £119bn ($160bn) to the country’s economy – a near ten percent rise year-on-year.

Much of this growth can be put down to the rise of the Gig or Shared economy – a term that freelancers themselves don’t like – but there are other global consolidation factors at play that are driving the creation of this on-demand workforce.

Take Field Engineer’s own sector – the telco market. Recent years have been characterized by a number of high profile mergers and acquisitions among the vendor and operator communities. While each could be said to have been influenced by a need to achieve economies of scale, they were also driven by the requirement to consolidate global positions and open up new markets.

Naturally, those economies have led to workforce reductions. In 2016, the telecom sector was reported to have shrunk by 10,000 jobs and most analysts predict that the 2017 number will be closer to 40,000.

But while the workforces shrink – the networks they need to support continue to grow. Not just in size but also in complexity. In economic terms, the advent of SDN/NFV networks is expected to deliver CAPEX savings to the operator, but those networks will always require increasingly specialized maintenance and support. In operational terms, it is crystal clear that no global telco provider or vendor can expect to have a full-time service engineer with the right qualifications available in every part of the world where it might have the equipment to maintain.

Our Field Engineer platform addresses that issue. It helps telecoms companies take advantage of the global freelancer boom to reduce their OPEX while still delivering on quality and service assurance. Our platform now has some 35,000 service engineers, in 170 countries, and covers more than 500 specific and certified vendor skills.

Companies can search the platform for engineering support via location or by capability. It takes only a few keystrokes describing the task required before the platform’s underlying artificial intelligence (AI) functionality begins identifying the engineers with the qualified skills, presence, and availability to undertake the work. Once identified, the platform allows companies to negotiate terms directly with the engineers, and then to commission the work and monitor its progress.

In less than a year, some 10,000 jobs have been commissioned and completed using the platform. For the telco operator and vendor community, there’s no better place to find their network support and to access their own, flexible and qualified, on-demand workforce.

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