A Job For Life Is Dead – Long Live Fractional Working

By Bredesen Lewis, Wharton MBA 2013; Co-founder, Skillbridge

Recessions call for change and innovation. Since 2008 there has been sector-wide disruption in areas such as finance, law, and consulting. Emergent trends that seem here to stay include opting for flexibility, having a lower full-time headcount and keeping cash on the balance sheet. This has given rise to an increasing number of part-time employees at all levels of the labor force, from tech talent to seasoned CFOs. Similarly, top professional talent is demonstrating increased interest in combining personal pursuits (travel, family, and social engagement) with the ability to monetize their sought-after skills as part-time freelancers.

Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures recently told a group of entrepreneurs at Wharton that he likes investing in technology focused on the labor market, specifically marketplaces. He argues the recession has fundamentally shifted the way we work and that data proves it. While the economy is climbing back uphill, the number of jobs is stagnant. The reason? People are engaging in part-time work that isn’t captured in conventional employment data. The rise of ‘fractional employment’ means unemployment numbers are consistently overstated.

Working remotely used to be uncommon and was inefficient and costly. However, seismic shifts in technology and HR management have allowed companies to save on costs, enabling employees to work from home or even farther afield. Even large corporations are now sharing files on Dropbox, making Skype calls and implementing flexible work programs (the backlash against Marissa Mayer shows everyone loves working in pajamas on Friday).

Companies face increasing volatility and have successfully adapted supply chains, manufacturing processes and financing to match. At last human capital management seems to be catching up. Six percent of the US workforce was categorized as freelance in 1990 and now ranges from 20 to 30 percent, according to Accenture. The freelance market is huge, and growing. According to The Economist, $300 billion is spent annually on part-time workers. While only $1 billion of this is done virtually, Staffing Industry Analysts expects this to grow to $5 billion by 2015. Public policy is lending a helping hand with the Affordable Care Act, making it easier to work as a freelancer and still get great coverage.

The range of freelance services is also expanding rapidly. Elance, an early talent marketplace, has focused on low-end providers of technology and creative talent. Yet the biggest growth trends are in areas of financial planning and analysis, accounting, and legal strategy, where only behemoth white-shoe firms have dominated until now.

My co-founder, Raj, and I founded Skillbridge while at Wharton because we both tried to do freelance work and realized how high the search costs are as an independent professional going it alone. Yet the top professionals we speak with consistently place great importance on more diverse personal and professional experiences. These extremely skilled professionals are transitioning jobs, starting families, and looking for ways to give back to their communities. Many of the Wharton grads we interviewed told stories of successful careers in finance and strategy derailed by taking a couple of years to start a family. To lose this type of talent is wasteful and unnecessary for both the economy and individuals.

We’re hopeful that companies and highly talented professionals increasingly see eye to eye on lowering costs while providing the flexibility needed for careers to truly flourish. Onward and upward with the fractional worker!


Brett LewisBio: Bredesen (Brett) Lewis is a co-founder and Director of Skillbridge. Skillbridge connects companies and investors with high caliber professionals for a fraction of the price it would normally cost to access that level of talent. Brett was born and raised in New York City. He received a BA at McGill University, an MSc at the London School of Economics and an MBA and MA at the Wharton School and the University of Pennsylvania where he was a Philip Whitcome and Leonard Lauder Scholar. He began his career at Bain & Company where he focused on Private Equity and Tech and Telecomm. Brett can be reached at bredesen@wharton.upenn.edu and on Twitter @bredesen.

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