Compared to earlier generations, millennials show more preference for freelance, independent contractor and other non-traditional employment including working in the gig economy. They also have different reasons for choosing one job over another. The combination challenges small and medium-sized employers to craft opportunities that encourage millennials to bring their talents to them instead of competitors.
“Younger people, age 18-34, are more likely to hold jobs in the gig economy and are more likely to rely on the gig economy as a primary source of income," says Laura M. Ivey, director of research at Edison Research in Somerville, New Jersey, citing "The Gig Economy," a Marketplace-Edison Research poll of 1,044 U.S. residents conducted in February 2018.
Employers may want to pay attention to the fact that millennials find gig work more appealing, Ivey says.
“They should care about it," she says. “Because that's where a lot of the talent pool comes from."
Carisa Miklusak, founder and CEO of Tilr, a Cincinnati-based job market search tool that uses algorithms to match workers with employers, has another reason why employers might want to get better at appealing to millennial gig workers: Fewer job candidates are choosing traditional full-time W-2 work these days.
The nature of gig employment may mean that opportunities for advancement are non-existent or difficult for the employee to decipher. Make the path to advancement clear for the gig employee.
—Laura M. Ivey, director of research, Edison Research
“If they keep fishing in that same pond, they're simply not going to get any bites because that pond is shrinking," Miklusak warns.
Companies already relying on independent workers may find it even more important to cater to millennials, according to "The Self-Employment Report," a November 2017 survey of 2,700 U.S. workers by online accounting provider FreshBooks with the help of Research Now. The report found that of the next 27 million independent workers, 42 percent will be millennials.
Attracting Millennials to Gig Work at Your Company
Control is a primary attractor for millennials working as freelancers and independents, observers and statistics agree. For instance, the FreshBooks survey found 43 percent of people choosing to become independents wanted more control over their careers.
“Now it's no longer the mindset to climb the corporate ladder," says Matt Baker, vice president of strategy for Toronto-based FreshBooks. “Now the mindset is 'I want to be in control, build my own career.' That's why people are gravitating to freelance work."
Employer can cater to this need by offering alternative workers more flexibility about the projects they'll be involved in. It's also advisable to stress the potential for learning valuable skills when advertising an open position, Baker says.
“Top of mind for them is, 'What am I going to learn?'" he says. “There's a premium on learning stuff that's helpful to them in the long run."
But gig workers are also more concerned than other workers about being able to pay their bills, adds Ivey.
“Half of gig workers who earn their primary income from the gig economy say they are frequently anxious about their financial situation," Ivey says. “Small-business owners would be well-served to structure compensation to be as dependable and stable as possible."
Also, although freelancers and independents have chosen alternative paths, they may also choose employers who offer opportunities to advance their careers.
“The nature of gig employment may mean that opportunities for advancement are non-existent or difficult for the employee to decipher," Ivey says. "Make the path to advancement clear for the gig employee."
Recognition may be another powerful attractor.
“Just over half of those who have jobs in the gig economy say they work harder for their income than those in traditional jobs, so it would go a long way if gig employers expressed their recognition of the demanding work," Ivey says.
Miklusak suggests employers can appeal to alternative workers by crafting a strategy incorporating these workers as a key part of the plan for reaching business objectives.
“Then share that strategy," she says. “Include a sentence in a job posting about why the company is hiring gig workers and why they are meaningful to the company."
The Future of Hiring Gig Workers
One thing that doesn't seem to work as well when recruiting non-traditional workers is the traditional appeal of increasing compensation.
“Simply offering a dollar more in the way you'd offer a raise to a traditional employer doesn't seem to have appeal to the gig workers," Miklusak says.
Technology, however, is making it easier to recruit and manage freelance, gig, independent contractor and other unconventional workers. Platforms like Tilr and Upwork use artificial intelligence and other technologies to connect employers with available workers. Collaboration tools make it easier to work with home-based and other remote workers.
Whether it's easy or difficult, employers today are well-advised to find ways to appeal to non-traditional workers and millennials in particular.
“People really like project-based work and like to drive their own interests," Miklusak says. “I think we're going to see more and more of it, and I think employers are going to have to accommodate it."
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