Though there’s an idea that the massive layoffs during the recent recession prompted thousands of workers to set up their own businesses when they couldn’t find new jobs — that notion’s not borne out in a recent survey from OnForce.
The company, which brings together local independent contractors and regional companies bidding on work contracts, polled 533 of its members. Among its findings:
These contractors perform work such as installing wireless networks at local businesses, installing updated point-of-sale systems and installing surveillance equipment at retail locations.
“These folks value the independence they get as contractors. They have confidence in their own abilities and skills — and they like working for themselves,” Bill Lucchini, COO of OnForce, told me.
He said the bulk of independent contractors are in their 30s and 40s.
“These are folks that are confident that they know their industry, they have connections, they can run their own business and they have a higher level of commitment to the business and to growing the business than in other age groups,” he said.
Indeed, contract and consulting work have been among the hottest areas of job growth. Two areas tracked by the U.S. Labor Department — Management and Technical Consulting Services along with Computer Systems Design and Related Services — have shown job gains for 29 consecutive months, adding 291,200 positions during that period, Foote Partners notes in its latest report.
In addition to the flexibility and independence these workers gain, on average, consultants bring home at least $20,000 more than their full-time counterparts, Dice reported in April. Tech workers in particular find they can cherry-pick their assignments and sculpt their own careers in that way.
Noting the percentage in the OnForce survey who said they were unwilling to go back to a traditional job, Sumair Dutta, vice president and principal analyst of service management at Aberdeen Group, told me it will be interesting to see whether that holds true in an improving economy.
“Depending on the demographics we see different motivations for contractors to become self-employed tied to flexibility and quality of life. For these workers we doubt an improving economy will bring them back to regular jobs. To the contrary, an improving economy will see organizations take a more cautious approach towards hiring, therefore increasing the demand for contract workers,” he said.
Almost 1 million people joined the U.S. independent work force in the past year, bringing the total to 16.9 million people, according to a study by MBO Partners, a company working to help independent workers. That report, however, was not specific to the IT work force.
However, it found some interesting insights, including:
“Gen Xers and Baby Boomers have generally lived the corporate life and have the networks, finances and expertise to build a small enterprise on their own,” Dutta said. “While there is still a high degree of risk, these folks are a lot more protected prior to jumping into self-employment. On the other hand, Gen Yers generally don’t have experience and networks to fall back on and are taking on a greater degree of risk for the perceived upside … The issue is the predictability of revenue, especially in down times.”