Recent research shows that the most popular industries for independent workers (often referred to as freelancers, consultants, gig workers, Independent Contractors, etc.) probably aren’t what you’d think. This changing landscape presents a new challenge to workers, and industry for building the required skills, and also for connecting flexible workers to projects.

As the 1099 economy continues to grow, a number of industries have emerged as top buyers of talent, and they may not be the ones you typically associate with the independent workforce.

The independent workforce is a broad and diverse population of workers, filled with skilled professionals with a wide variety of experience and backgrounds. Nearly 54 million Americans are now part of this growing ecosystem, according to a study by the Freelancers Union. A study by Intuit predicts that 40% of the American workforce will be comprised of freelancers, contractors, and temporary employees by 2020. Some experts predict that 50% of the U.S. workforce could be contingent by 2030.

The top job category for independent workers is computer and IT, followed by administrative in second, and accounting and finance in third. Rounding out the top 10 are customer service, software development, medical and health, project management, research analyst, writing, and education and training.

Top 10 Industries for Freelancers

  1. Computer and IT
  2. Administrative
  3. Accounting and finance
  4. Customer service
  5. Software development
  6. Medical and health
  7. Project management
  8. Research analyst
  9. Writing
  10. Education and training

When you look at this list it is not surprising to see Computer and IT as the top industry. Technology work has always been very project oriented, which lends itself to the independent workforce. This dynamic has been compounded by a sustained technical talent shortage in that industry for the last decade.

What is interesting is some of the other industry segments, such as Customer Service, Medical and Health, and Education and Training. These are sectors that have not traditionally been associated with significant opportunities for contingent workers.

Even more interesting, is creative fields that have traditionally been heavily associated with freelancers, barely made the list. Writing was only ranked ninth, and Graphic Design wasn’t even in the top 10. The breadth and scope of “traditional” contingent work opportunities is expanding rapidly.

The Need for Speed, and Flexibility

The growth in the independent labor market isn’t only on the supply side. Client-side demand for freelance, contract, and temporary workers is increasing rapidly as well. Companies today are confronted with a rapidly changing and unpredictable economic climate, which drives the need for flexibility, economy, and effectiveness. A variable labor model, that affords access to specialized talent and skillsets, fits the need perfectly. As a result, companies are expanding the scope of traditional roles and tasks that are better suited for freelance and temporary staff.

The Education Burden

When workers decide to leave the traditional workplace and embark on independent careers, however, they can easily lose touch with what’s happening in their own industries. After all, by their very definition, independent workers are not tied to any single employer. They don’t have the luxury of on-the-job training or managers to tell them what skills they’ll need to acquire for the future.

Employers are increasingly looking for highly specialized skills as well as interdisciplinary skills that might be applicable in tandem, in new combinations, such as writing and search engine optimization. This is particularly the case in tech-oriented professions like software and development. Workers must ensure that they’re on top of the latest frameworks and skills.

The Opportunity in Micro Niche Specialties

In the current labor market some specialization is important, but generalists are still thriving in the freelance economy. However, as you look further ahead into the future, many experts believe that as client needs get more specific and the labor market gets more competitive, independent workers will differentiate themselves by becoming leaders of highly specific niche markets. This dynamic is particularly driven by technology advancements, which as they become more broadly adopted by industry also require industry specialization to apply effectively.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

As this latest research so aptly illustrates, the labor market – particularly the independent workforce component – is rapidly evolving. Independent workers and the clients that engage them need an expert, like TalentWave, to help them connect and work together safely and effectively.