Non-Traditional Workers : Trend Overview

Non-traditional workers – Freelancers, self-employed workers, contract workers, remote workers, consultants… There are more and more non-traditional workers. Following the realities of the labour market, which goes for flexibility, adaptability and so-called “agile” business models and recruitment, they now constitute 20 to 30% of Canadian workers. Brief overview of a trend that is gaining momentum.

Who are they?

“When you think of freelancers, you think immediately of young people, who are actually more inclined to start their own micro-enterprise or to work for themselves,” explains Jocelyne LeBel, career and human resources development consultant.But the trend also exists among those 55 and over.” Indeed, she adds, a significant proportion of non-traditional workers are found among pre-retired or newly retired people, who start out in business to supplement their income or, quite simply, because they want to. “We often hear about newly retired employees re-contacted by their former employer to use their services as consultants, for example. Many people, after retirement, still feel in great shape. They want to keep working, especially in a context that lets them do it for fun and under their own terms.”

Among the youngest, many factors are at play in the increased number of non-traditional workers – the desire to set their own schedule, to facilitate work-family balance, to be judged according to their skills or to maintain professional relationships that are more egalitarian than hierarchical, for example – but it can be explained in part by the major transformations noted within the labour market. “The notion of job stability is not what it used to be,” explains Jocelyne LeBel, “ and some people will feel more in control as self-employed workers.

For businesses, hiring contract workers according to need, without weighing down the payroll, providing work tools, offering social benefits, enlarging office space or assuming the costs related to hiring permanent employees, is an important financial motivator.” Workers, if they are to become more flexible, must become very disciplined to maintain a decent income. They must also do their own accounting, arrange their schedule and, especially, strike a balance between an hourly rate and the many hours of preparation, research and management done outside billable hours.

Out of sight, out of mind

“It would be a mistake to think that setting your own schedule means working less,” says Mrs. LeBel. “On the contrary, self-employed workers often say that they are “always somewhat working.” The boundary between their professional and private life is virtually non-existent. In addition, they may sometimes suffer from not participating in the everyday life of the workplace. For many, the lack of social contacts, team work and friendly professional relationships can lead to some isolation. “We also note that remote workers, who often have obtained the privilege of remote work after having proved their reliability, are often considered less for a promotion, for example, since they are absent from the office. This is the other side of the coin when one is judged solely on one’s professional performance.”

So are non-traditional workers the future of the labour market? Partly. Although they have an increasing place in certain sectors, such as information technologies, engineering, finance and human resources, other sectors continue to resist the trend and rather seek to adapt their strategies to retain their qualified workforce.

The success of a flourishing and productive non-traditional career, concludes Jocelyne LeBel, is simply passion. “When you love what you are doing, no obstacle is insurmountable!”

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