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(Note: This blog series is adapted from an article written for the Quarterly Journal – Summer 2016 of the Life Planning Network, a membership organization of professionals dedicated to helping people navigate the second half of life.)

Baby Boomers are retiring in droves, contributing to a rapidly changing workforce and work environment.  Many “retirees”, however, envision a future that includes work . . . just not the traditional full-time role from which they are departing. 

So what does the new work landscape look like?  What options are out there for finding meaningful, flexible work?  Equally important, how can you best position yourself to secure flexible work now and in the future?

I will answer these questions and more in my three-part series on the The Future of Aging and Flexible Work.  Read on for today’s post about the new work landscape.

The Quickly Changing Landscape of Work

Flexibility.  Flex work.  Work-life balance.  Remote work.  Contract work. No matter what you call it, the where, when, and how of work has changed greatly and continues to do so at an exciting but intimidating pace for both job seekers and employers alike. Some of the larger, inter-related forces at play include:

  • Growing Skills Gap. The report, The World at Work: Jobs, Pay, and Skills for 3.5 Billion People, by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that by 2020 there will be a “skills gap” of 38-40 million skilled workers, meaning the demand for skills will be greater than the supply.  This gap is due in part to the surge of retiring Baby Boomers.  This bodes well for the seasoned worker desiring flexible work.  A smart employer will opt to capitalize on a seasoned worker’s skillset by meeting his or her demands for flexibility rather than having no such talent at all.
  • On-Demand Economy. There has been much talk — negative and positive — about the growing number of freelancers, contractors, independent consultants, and temporary or agency workers. According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, the number of contingent workers is projected to outpace full-time workers by 2020.  This group used to be a relatively small portion of the U.S. workforce, but in the last decade it has expanded dramatically.

According to the 2015 Freelancing in America Survey, one in three American workers is freelancing.  It is particularly noteworthy that half of those surveyed do not want to return to traditional full-time work.  More and more, they are freelancing by choice, preferring to have control over the work they do and for whom, rather than working long-term for a single employer.  With an on-demand economy comes new and creative flexible employment models. Companies like Uber and Lyft, job boards such as FlexJobs, online connection platforms such as TaskRabbit and Upwork, and flexible staffing agencies, such as FlexProfessionals, are not only here to stay, they are growing industries.  This is great news for job seekers that are looking for flexibility.  It is even better news if you are in the position to forgo benefits such as health insurance and to weather the peaks and valleys inherent in freelance work.

  • Desire for Flexibility. Who wants flexibility?  Study after study reveals that almost everyone is looking for flexibility.  It is not just a priority for Millenials, who will account for 50% of the workforce by 2020, and Baby Boomers.  Flexibility is desired by virtually everyone.

Why? There are many drivers:  technology that makes it easier to work from anywhere, longer commutes, an uncertain economy, desires for work-life balance, changing demographics, and a growing number of employees needing flexibility to care for aging family members.

Here is Where it Gets Tricky — For the aging population looking to stay engaged in a flexible role, the forecast has never been brighter.  Much has been written on the subject of flexible career opportunities for second career professionals (see the recent New York Times article on this subject or visit Kerry Hannon’s blog).  As flexible work grows, however, so will the competition!  This is where your ability to target companies open to flexible work and to position yourself as a top candidate for flexible work comes into play.

Now that we’ve discussed the changing landscape of work, in Part II of this series, I will show you how to target employers open to flexible work and how to effectively demonstrate your value to them.

Sheila Murphy is Co-Founder/Partner of FlexProfessionals, LLC, a niche staffing agency that matches professionals seeking meaningful, flexible work with growing businesses looking for top talent.