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When you think of the phrase “free agent,” you may think of professional sports. But the concept of free agency is gaining steam in professions far removed from the ball fields of popular sports.

When it comes to the typical American workplace, free agent refers to someone who performs work outside the traditional employment relationship. Free agents can be entrepreneurs, W-2 contractors, independent contractors, and part-time workers, just to provide a few examples.

According to the (Minnesota) Star Tribune, citing information from Kelly Service research, more than 40% of workers classify themselves as free agents, as compared with 26% of workers who defined themselves that way just five years ago.

MBO Partners calls them “independent workers” and stated in its 2013 State of Independence Report that they account for 17.7 million of today’s workers. They predict that amount will increase to 24 million by 2018. The report states that “Independence is a structural shift, not a blip, in the jobs economy.”

This trend is being driven by BOTH companies and workers for a number of reasons:

  • A still tepid economy is making employers reluctant to commit to direct hires.
  • Technology is eliminating many of the traditional, full-time jobs, leaving positions that require a higher level of motivation, problem solving, and critical thinking that is perfectly suited to a more entrepreneurial path.
  • The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is leading more companies away from traditional, direct hiring, especially with the upcoming employer mandate that will require them to provide healthcare if they have 50 or more employees.
  • Workers need and want more work/life balance, and the flexibility of being a free agent allows them more choice their work location and schedule.
  • After being burned by the layoffs of the recession, many workers choose free agency because they feel it gives them more control over their careers.

Contract staffing is one of many ways that workers can become free agents. But unlike starting a business or working as a 1099 independent contractor, becoming a contractor who is a W-2 employee of a third party offers more of a safety net. A contractor working through a recruiting firm or staffing agency may enjoy many of the same perks as a traditional employee… but with a lot more flexibility. They receive the protection of Workers’ Compensation and unemployment insurance. They get a regular paycheck, usually with the option of direct deposit. And many of them even have access to benefits such as healthcare, dental, vision, and life insurance and 401(k).

This is a popular option for both workers and companies. In fact, the Star Tribune article sites Intuit statistics that show 80% of large companies plan to substantially increase their use of contract/temporary workers.

That means that your clients could very well be looking for contractors. And a number of your star candidates may be looking for contract work. Meeting these needs is easier than you may think. You can offer contract staffing and outsource the employment of the contractors to a contract staffing back-office. The back-office will become the legal employer of the contractors and handle all the financial, administrative, and legal tasks associated with contract placements. Be sure that you work with one that provides all the perks listed above, including a full menu of benefits.

Free agency appears to be a trend that is here to stay. Are you ready to get on board?

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