Many employers have learned to incorporate flexible workers – freelancers, contract workers, temps, etc. – into their business models in recent years. Once considered second-rate, these flexible workers now constitute the backbones of countless organizations.

Of the estimated 162 million gig workers across the United States and Europe, 44 percent do gig work as their main source of income, according to new research from LinkedIn and Adecco. Gig work is no longer just a way to fill a resume gap or to make a few extra bucks. Instead, it is now viewed as a legitimate career path by many serious-minded professionals.

“It’s not just a stop-gap anymore,” says Melissa Furze, senior manager, insights, EMEA, for LinkedIn. “Now, it’s just as often a lifestyle choice or a way into a dream job.”

The LinkedIn/Adecco research found that 54 percent of independent professionals use flexible work “to pursue their own particular interests.” Those interests include:

  1. Earning money while in school (7 percent)
  2. As a stepping stone toward a full-time position in a chosen field (29 percent)
  3. Maintaining flexibility (13 percent)
  4. Working on project-based opportunities (5 percent)

“It’s more important than ever to discuss with potential candidates what they’re looking for during the recruitment phase,” Furze says. “Flexible workers are often driven by a variety of reasons and career ambitions, but those can easily transform over time. Be sure to connect regularly to find out if their motivators have changed and to make sure everyone’s goals are aligned.”

Boomers and Millennials Finally Agree on Something

While the common perception may be that gig work is a career path pursued mainly by millennials who value work/life balance, the fact is that gig workers span all generations. You don’t have to be in your 20s or 30s to enjoy a little flexibility in your professional life, and everyone from college grads to retirees have figured that out.

“Older professionals are flocking to gig work as a way to create a flexible lifestyle,” Furze says.

According to LinkedIn’s analysis, contractors tend to be highly educated and skilled. Among contractors, 91 percent are in their middle-to-late careers. Contractors also reach high-seniority roles a year earlier than their non-contract peers, on average.

“They’re not willing to take just any job – in fact, they’re usually looking for a challenge,” Furze says. “Thirty percent of contractors who recently left their company said that they left to find more challenging work.”

Let Go of Traditional Employment Structures

Whether they continue clinging to outdated stereotypes about gig workers or just don’t like the lack of control that often comes with using a freelancer, some business leaders still hesitate to leverage the gig workforce. But when the times change, businesses need to change with them.

“Tapping into this massive talent pool will not only boost your bottom line, but can potentially fill in skill gaps within your organization,” Furze says. “Start by identifying the needs of your business. For example, do you need a hard-to-find skill set with a lot of competition? Or perhaps you need some time to test a new role before committing to it. Be open to the full spectrum of employment models to find the best talent to fit your needs.”

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