For a curious mind, the Statista daily infographic is a wonderful source of informative, eye-opening, but often irrelevant information about the world around us. However, every now and again, something crops up that takes a little more time to study.

This was a “yellow car” moment for me. What is the “yellow car” moment? When you know what to look out for, it’s easier to spot, like the child’s game to see who can spot a yellow car when you are driving. You might also have experienced this when you first drive your new car and suddenly see so many of the same make on the road around you.

With the #EIIL I’m studying the effects of changes in working conditions on the older generation of workers, so I was attracted by the figure that already 28% of over 55s are working to some extent as freelancers. As access to freelance work becomes easier by the day, this statistic should be no real surprise, and in many reports I’ve read, the prediction is that this will rise even further.

The rise of the freelancer will be led by the younger generations for whom, it is an interesting fit with their career aspirations. The ability to manage your time, be your own boss, choose what you want to do and even change your entire career direction appeals to the Millennials and Generation C.
However, from working with the older age group, and especially with the #TransitionGeneration, the group of people who are now in their late 40s to late 50s, I can see another trend that should worry organisations. This is the building up of experience throughout a career, or in the case of the freelancer, the lack of it.

Freelancers give companies the opportunity to manage resource peaks and to shed these additional numbers at project completion. In some sectors (engineering, IT) this is a very familiar situation, with some of the best talent jumping from project to project in the search for the best pay and opportunities. They are not hired for their future potential, they are hired because they can get the job done, and such cases might serve as a warning as the trend towards more freelancing increases.

If I think about future leaders of industry, they need to have a broader understanding of the whole organisation. In their rise to the top, they will need a wide experience of all the necessary skill-sets required for senior positions, an experience they develop along the way. Where are the new leaders going to come from if an increasing proportion of the next generation have only ever been hired for the job they can currently do? Put another way, an increasing proportion of the available workforce will not have twenty years of experience, but twenty assignments providing a repeat of the same one year’s experience.

Should organisations care about the development of freelancer talent? Clearly the answer is yes if the trends mentioned in the infographic continue to rise. Mainly because some of the best future talent might choose this career path but we still want them to be able to progress towards leadership.

But what can organisations do? This is where I believe the #TransitionGeneration can step in. The Transition Generation are a group of people in their late 40’s to late 50’s and who have seen stability replaced by rapid change in many areas of their life. Many are in senior positions in their organisations and so they are in a strong position to influence the organisations in which they work.

Influence for what? Just as they have seen the transition of the steady, predictable security of their parents to the uncertain, technology driven future of their children, they are the ideal group to mentor the organisation from the traditions of the past to the methods of the future.

The Transition Generation have had the benefit of a full and varied career and they have both the longer-term vision and influence among their peers, and they know how to maintain and use a network. This makes them ideal as mentors to the younger freelancers; they have the ability to build and implement a freelancer strategy for the long term and they can help maintain the network the organisation will need to keep its freelancer talent available.

In the new working paradigm, workers will freely move from employment into freelancing and back again. Talent is needed in the Industry, and it should no longer be considered the property of just one organisation. Your next leader might have spent half of his career as a freelancer.

The next time we see that freelancer numbers have increased, as I’m sure we will, wouldn’t it be nice to know that the best freelancer talent is also in safe hands and that there is scope for their development alongside the employee?

Paul Bennington