Permanent employment may be disappearing faster than anyone thought. In recent weeks, both the Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review have published articles on crowd-sourced labor, or the hiring of a temporary team to accomplish a very specific task.

In increasing numbers, large organizations are using crowd-sourcing instead of permanent hiring to achieve their goals. AOL used it recently when it hired a team of contractors to build software to help the company best leverage its video assets. It makes sense if you think about it. For one thing, hiring and training new permanent employees is very expensive. For another, it’s difficult to get rid of them during financial rough patches or when they are no longer needed.

The future is coming up fast

This is not a new idea. Futurist research has been saying for years that by 2025, the majority of us will be contingent workers, working from home or private offices and completing a variety of tasks for a variety of employers. For most, long-term, stable relationships with employers will in short-order be a thing of the past, and I suspect that, as individuals, we’re not ready.

The perks and quirks of contingent work

I’m an independent contractor today, and I can tell you it took a lot of getting used to. I eased into this career over a period of four years, frequently returning to my large company of origin for some predictable work and comforting conversation by the water cooler. I’ve been a solo-preneur for a while now, and I still tire of the administrative nightmares and emotional hand-wringing that comes with having my own business.

Of course, working via crowd-sourcing has its advantages. Maybe you need to earn a little extra cash. Maybe you’re geographically challenged. Maybe you want to choose your own hours so you can pick the kids up from school. Maybe you want to work in your pajamas.  Contingent work allows for all of these things.

Even the benefits of having a single job with one employer are diminishing. We all know what happened to large company job security in 2008, and as HBR and the New York Times pointed out, that work for many “regular” employees (like those in retail) is just as unpredictable as the work for independent contractors.

However, working for yourself and being 100% in charge of your own career requires a skill set that is not native to most people. Not only do you have to be self-disciplined, deadline-focused, and skilled at developing virtual relationships, but you have to be able to manage your time on many different fronts simultaneously, and keep track of who needs to pay you and when. You have to be out there selling your work and getting your own training so you can stay ahead of the competition. With freedom comes responsibility. Lots of it.

Experiment now, prevent shock later

Given where we are inevitably heading as a workforce, you might want to dip your toe in this kind of work before you are thrown in head first. You can start by doing an isolated project for another department or volunteer organization, and filling out your online profiles thoroughly so potential employers can find you easily.

(Photo credit: Person at the notebook via Shutterstock)

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