by Nick O’Shiel, CEO, Omagh Enterprise
The number of freelance workers is increasing as the types of jobs in the economy change. Entrepreneurs are using technology to serve customers in increasingly imaginative ways. The change is creating a world of new jobs and affecting how businesses operate and people live. But what does it mean for the future?
People used to work as freelance providers of services and products until the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s created large companies employing hundreds and thousands of people.
The companies provided a central point of location for workers and even career structures with terms and conditions of employment that ensured a level of stability and security.
Everything worked well for a period of time until the need to keep costs low clashed with the demands of employees who wanted higher wages.
The differences led to tensions between management and workers and so employers searched for new ways to reduce costs and stay in business.
The seeds of change appeared in the form of technology and globalisation, which meant employers sought greater savings by introducing computers and automation and contracting out non-core activities.
Employers also sought to engineer more flexible workforces that could be expanded or contracted in line with the whims of the market.
Technology and in recent years technology in the form of the smartphone has taken change to another level, as entrepreneurs marry the flexibility of freelancer workers with the oddities of the market.
The matching of technology with an endless supply of cheap freelance workers has created an on-demand economy, with companies like Uber providing taxis and a sharing-economy, with companies like Airbnb providing accommodation.
Even the knowledge economy is vulnerable to change, as companies become adept at inventing and reinventing what they do and how they do it.
In all cases, the new model of work is based on companies identifying what they want to retain internally and what they can do more effectively through the use of freelance workers.
In this scenario, the company benefits from lower costs and the freelancer benefits from regular and reliable work without the burden of overhead or staff costs.
The worry, of course, is that the change is leading to fewer jobs and greater levels of insecurity, particularly for people who lack the skills and survival instincts to thrive in a fluid and, at times, chaotic and uncertain environment.
It also means governments, schools and universities must educate people to be more resilient and self-reliant, rather than prepared for a world of predictability that presupposes the provision of jobs.
It is, however, good news for entrepreneurs and new businesses that want to use technology to create opportunities and jobs and wealth where previously none existed.
SO, the future of work looks different in a world where entrepreneurs, technology and freelance workers combine to create new jobs and new types of jobs.