I am a freelancer. That’s it, full stop. If you are a glass half full kind of person then you’ll be looking at all the shiny benefits up for grab; more flexibility, the chance to unload the dishwasher and get paid in between, the opportunity to work where and when you want, no-one to say you can or can’t take a day, week, a year off, the option to dabble in entrepreneurship, write a novel, become a master chef. There is of course the small matter of pay. It’s kind of fair – you get paid for what you do, it’s the ‘does what it says on the tin’ kind of a deal, no less, no more. If you are, however, a glass half empty sort of a person, you may be forgiven for being terrified at the mere thought that your salary could go up and down like a rollercoaster on acid, not to mention you’ll forever be on the lookout for your next piece of the salary pie, endlessly seeking your next gig, sadly without the rock star attached.

So, this week, new research out by Oracle struck a chord with me; excuse the gigging pun. I was amazed to see that half of HR decision-makers say companies will hire more temporary employees on a project basis by 2020. It’s easy to see why it’s so attractive – what employer wouldn’t be tempted by a workforce that isn’t permanently on the books – it’s a bit like having a relationship without the marriage. What’s more, there are increasingly more people that wish to work like this. The school children of today will probably laugh at the thought that anyone ever worked in a permanent job at all. I can see them now howling with amazement that their parents ever had to do something so ridiculously inflexible as work for an employer on a never-ending contract. “But where’s the end?” they’d be asking, flipping over the contracts of yesteryear whose end point marked retirement.

The new research reveals that nearly 40% of UK companies already hire most of their new staff on a temporary or project basis and that 50% plan to hire more temporary workers by 2020. Those really are big figures. If you look around your office today and fast forward it by three years you can expect to see a brave new world in which at least half the workers aren’t permanently employed at all.

Of course, having a workforce made up of serial contractors raises hard questions about workplace protections. Who is responsible for training and developing contract workers? Forty percent believe gig employees should manage and pay for their own training, but the same percentage say this responsibility rests with employers.

For their part and rather unsurprisingly, workers in the UK have made it clear they expect businesses to step up in this regard. Only 11% believe contract workers are responsible for their own training and development, compared with 50% who say the obligation rests with the hiring company.

Commenting, Andy Campbell, HCM Strategy Director at Oracle, said: “The way we develop talent needs a rethink if UK businesses are to stay on top of their projects and recruit skilled candidates on shorter notice. HR leaders who are already playing a more strategic role in the boardroom will now be tasked with finding new ways to match the right people to the right jobs at the right time.”

Raising one potential solution, just over half, 56% of HR leaders believe training materials should be made publicly available to freelancers so they can develop the specific skills required to fill open roles. Although and, with my cynical hat on I can’t see this ever happening. Without being marched to a door labelled ‘employee development, step this way’, I think many of us would be forgiven for giving training a wide berth unless it came in the shape of a YouTube ‘how to’ because here in lies the snag; who has time as a freelancer to ‘develop their skills’? In the new gig economy the freelancers will just be too busy sniffing out their next job and delivering on the current ones because continuous job hunting takes time and that is the problem that en masse ‘gigging’ presents; an army of temporary workers continuously knocking at would-be hirers’ doors asking like Oliver Twist, ‘Please sir, can I have some more.’

So you see there’s always two sides of the story and it really depends upon which side of the coin you fall. You’re either overjoyed by the delights that a permanent gig may bring; the chance to walk a path that is not already etched out for you; or you’d rather be snug and cosy in the thought that you won’t always be looking over your shoulder to make next month’s mortgage payment or the one after that.

By Annie Hayes, HR freelance writer and expert.

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