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Gen Z Data Reveals: They’re The Freelance Generation

Upwork, the largest global freelancing website, today released new Gen Z data from respondents to Freelancing in America: 2017, the most comprehensive measure of the U.S. independent workforce, conducted by independent research firm Edelman Intelligence and commissioned in partnership by Upwork and Freelancers Union. Findings show that Gen Z — the youngest segment of today’s adult workforce (people born between 1997-2000), is the most freelancing-inclined generation yet. Gen Z is foregoing traditional, corporate roles and freelancing by choice more than any other generation: nearly half (46 percent) of adult working Gen Zers freelanced last year. In addition, this generation is more likely than any other to choose freelancing proactively, with 73 percent saying they originally started by choice rather than necessity (versus 66 percent of Baby Boomers and 62 percent of Millennials).

Why They’re Becoming The Freelance Generation

“As Gen Z enters the workforce, they’re increasingly choosing non-traditional ways of working that are better suited to their desired lifestyle than a traditional 9-to-5 job is,” said Stephane Kasriel, Upwork CEO. “More than any other generation, members of Gen Z are seeking work they’re passionate about that also affords them freedom and flexibility. It’s important that companies adjust their hiring strategies in order to work with the best young talent, which accounts for more people than Gen X and Baby Boomers and will be the majority of the workforce in the next five years.”

Austin Traschel, a 22-year old videographer from Wilmore, Kentucky, started freelancing while earning a B.A. in Media Communications from Asbury University and decided to freelance full-time upon graduating instead of getting a corporate job. “Freelancing has not only allowed me to pursue my passion of bringing stories to life through video but also afforded me the luxury of doing so from anywhere in the world that I can take my camera and computer,” said Traschel. “When I graduated from college, continuing to build my freelance business instead of getting a traditional 9-to-5 was an easy decision because I’d already established relationships with clients around the world doing work that I love.”

Key takeaways from the Freelancing in America: 2017 Gen Z data include:

  • Nearly half of Gen Z is freelancing: Nearly half (46 percent) of Gen Z freelanced in the 12 months prior to the survey.
  • Gen Z is freelancing more by choice: More than any other generation before them, 73 percent of Gen Z-ers said they started freelancing by choice rather than out of necessity (v. 66 percent of Baby Boomers and 64% of Millennials who started by choice).
  • “The Net Generation” thinks tech-first to gain location flexibility: Gen Z, who are digital natives, believe technology makes it easier to find freelance work (74 percent agreed). In addition, tech is enabling them to work where they want; whether it’s in a co-working space, coffee shop or open-office, 41 percent of working Gen Zers said they work in a setting around other people — almost as many (39 percent) who said they work on-the-go.
  • Gen Z is among the least concerned about automation’s impact: Gen Z and Baby Boomers are least concerned about the impact of automation, with less than one-third (31 percent) and 23 percent, respectively, saying it will impact their livelihood. This is in contrast to Millennials, who are most concerned at 44 percent saying automation will impact them.
  • Young professionals are more prepared for the future of work: Gen Z freelancers are proactively preparing more than any other generation with 58 percent having participated in skills-related education in the past six months versus 56 percent of Millennials; 35 percent of Gen X; and 19 percent of Baby Boomers. As technology rapidly evolves, this younger demographic is keeping up with the need for increasingly specialized skills.
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