"Gig economy" is the term used to describe the growing labor market centering around contractors and independent freelancers working a succession of short-term projects instead of or in addition to, a traditional full-time employment at a single company. The gig economy has boomed in recent years with people in many different industries forgoing the security of a permanent job to work for themselves.
So is going it alone the right choice for engineers? We look at some of the pros and cons to help you decide.
According to recent statistics, many millions of Americans have decided to freelance. This report from Nation 1099 reveals that:
- At least 11 percent of the U.S. workforce is a full-time "career" freelancer - meaning they work primarily as independent contractors in roles that would previously have been filled by permanent employees.
- Another 3-5 percent of the workforce are exclusively freelance but only part-time.
So that's a lot of people choosing the self-employed route. What's driving that?
The Pros of the Gig Economy
There are obviously a lot of benefits for both employees and employers, who don't have to provide benefits to freelancers. So what's in it for you?
- Freedom and flexibility. You get to choose who you work with, and where and when you do it. Obviously, in the engineering world, this will be driven partly by where the jobs are but it opens up a whole new world where you can travel and experience new places without having to commit to making a big move to another country and all that entails. You can just pack a bag and go. With affordable accommodation easily found nowadays through companies such as AirBnB, you can easily make a home somewhere for a couple of months to a couple of years.
- Project-based work. All engineering jobs are for specified timescales so the gig economy is the perfect fit for it. You no longer have to commit to a full-time job with a company just to work on a certain project.
- Better income. Most freelance gigs will be better paid than a staff job as companies don't have the other overheads associated with employing you full-time. It's recognized as well that freelancers tend to be highly skilled and experienced and bring a wealth of knowledge to the job.
The Cons of the Gig Economy
Although there a lot to be said for doing it all for yourself, it pays to think about the down sides too before you take the plunge.
- Insecurity. You're going to always be looking for work, even when you're embroiled in one project you're going to have to be on the ball looking around and making contacts for what comes next. Of course, partnering with savvy recruiters from reputable staffing companies specializing in Engineering such as Modis, can help alleviate some of these burdens.
- Extra jobs. As a freelancer you have to wear a lot of hats. As well as doing your engineering job you'll also have to become an administrator, an accountant and a marketer. You'll have to keep on top of your taxes, your invoicing and promotion of yourself in the market.
- Loneliness and lack of structure. As many of the jobs in the gig economy for engineering are design based, you could end up at home alone a lot of the time. This may suit you down to the ground but after working in a structured workplace for most of your working life it can be hard to adjust. You'll have to motivate yourself to meet deadlines.
So for many engineers, it boils down to what the most important elements are when it comes to designing the ideal work life. This article on Engineering.com has more stats and things to think about if your considering becoming a gigging engineer, or you can check out our openings for engineers if you're ready to get started.