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In the 19th century, it was the Industrial Revolution.  In the 1950′s, it was the shift from blue collar to white collar work. And some are predicting that we are now at the beginning of another workforce revolution: a shift from permanent employment to contingent work.

In his book Labor Rising, The Past and Future of Working People in America (a portion of which was reprinted in the Huffington Post), Richard Greenwald refers to it as the “Gig Economy” where workers “jump from job to job, career to career, project to project working as consultants.” He contends that this could be “the most fundamental economic shift of the past 50 years” and compares it to the 1950′s when “America became a nation of white-collar workers, leaving behind its blue-collar roots.”

“This sea of change has brought with it a new work ethic that values multitasking, embedded communities of workers, the blending of leisure and work activity, and the rise of creativity and independence, along with money as co-measures of success,” Greenwald said. “We seem to be returning to a craft sensibility as workers blend leisure and work and work harder, faster, and longer, but also find time to squeeze in a social life, too.”

Greenwald estimates that 50% of all workers will be working on a contingent basis by 2020. Thomas Fisher, Dean of the College of Design a the University of Minnesota, cites similar statistics in his article “The Contingent Workforce and Public Decision Making” in the Public Sector Digest. He states that 40-45% of workers will be contingent by 2020, and by 2030, contingent workers will be the majority in what he refers to as the “next economy.”

“In this next economy, workers will have much more flexibility in terms of how, when, and where they work, and they will have, over the course of their careers, many professional engagements and even several different careers altogether rather than the long-term, relatively permanent employment of the old economy,” Fisher said in the article.

We all know that the use of contingent workers has surged since the recession. Does this mean we are witnessing the start of a revolution? What do you think?

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