Empowering the Freelance Economy

Contracting: it’s helping to eliminate ageism and the gender pay gap, says study

Jimmy Sheehan, Managing Director of Contracting Plus, pictured with Professor Andrew Burke, Dean of Trinity Business School
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A study carried out by Ireland’s Trinity Business School suggests that ageism does not carry over to the freelancing sector, with the researchers suggesting that experience is “highly valued” in the independent contractor market.

  • Contractors generally earn 58% more than the equivalent employees and averaged job satisfaction levels of 80%
  • Self-employed and project economy workers over 60 are among the highest earners in the sector
  • Confidence levels remain high among freelancers even in the face of COVID-19 with 64% of the contractors believing the contracting sector would increase in the next 3-5 years
  • The researchers surveyed 1,458 individuals, made up of contractors, recruiters who engage in contract recruitment and clients who include contracting services

Ireland’s self-employed and project economy workers over 60 are among the highest earners in the sector, said the report, securing the largest day rates and annual income of any age group. 

The research, conducted in partnership with contractor accountancy Contracting PLUS, is Ireland’s first-ever independent study into the country’s Project Economy. It analysed the sector’s economic contribution and the experiences of those working within the sector.

Within the study, it was revealed that alongside over-60s earning more than any other age group, and the gender pay gap being 17% smaller than the national average, freelancers have better job satisfaction and earn more than those in long-term employment.

According to the research, undertaken by Professor Andrew Burke, Dr Na Fu and Tam Nguyen, independent contractors generally earn 58% more than the equivalent employees, and averaged job satisfaction levels of 80%. 

It was also revealed that those doing specifically project-based work – which the researchers revealed constitutes around three-quarters of the contractor workforce – earned on average 70% more than equivalent employees in Ireland.

Burke and his co-authors also found that confidence levels among freelancers remains high in the face of COVID-19 with 64% of the contractors believing the contracting sector would increase in the next 3-5 years.

Freelancing provides a solution for older professionals

Discussing the findings of the report, and the contribution of independent contractors to Irish economy, Professor Andrew Burke, Dean of Trinity Business School and Chair of Business Studies, said, “Freelancing seems to provide some way out of the dilemma where despite a pension funding crisis where we need people to work late in life, older workers face discrimination in the employment sector. This problem does not carry over to the project economy.” 

He reiterated the report findings, “Experience is highly valued in the high skilled independent contractor market where older workers earn more than their younger counterparts. In fact, we find that workers who are over 60 years old secure the highest day rates and have the highest annual earning of any age group.  This is not only a great economic gain but we also find that these workers also have high job satisfaction.  This shows that high skilled freelancers in the pension age zone can find a life-fulfilling and financially valuable career at a time in their life when most employees are often being let go by employers.” 

“Freelancing seems to provide some way out of the dilemma where despite a pension funding crisis where we need people to work late in life, older workers face discrimination in the employment sector. This problem does not carry over to the project economy.” 

Professor Andrew Burke, Dean of Trinity Business School and Chair of Business Studies

Jimmy Sheehan, Managing Director of Contracting PLUS, said that having a clear view of this sector and of contractors’ economic contribution is important.  

“Many major business and industrial sectors rely on the project economy, making extensive use of high-skilled independent contractors to help them compete and to drive innovation and entrepreneurial activity.  They make a massive contribution in businesses where agility and ability to manage uncertainty and risk is key to competitive advantage,” said Shehan.

Dr. Na Fu, Associate Professor in Human Resource Management, said that despite the positive outcomes of the report, challenges for contractors have also been highlighted.

Dr. Na Fu, Associate Professor in Human Resource Management
Photo Credit: Trinity Business Pic Paul Sharp/SHARPPIX

“Overall, the findings are positive in terms of pay, work satisfaction, and wellbeing,” said Fu. “Meanwhile, some challenges faced by this professional and knowledge-intensive group are also noteworthy. They include the lack of opportunity to voice, network, and collaborate with others…Therefore, a synthesis of people management policies, practices, and workers’ voice is needed in the future to enable a productive, inclusive, and sustainable workplace for everyone.”

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1 Comment
  1. Legally Bewildered says

    The issue is the not excellent news that many disciplines welcome experience – long many that remain.

    It is those disciplines that see age and experience as a threat to be shunned. The legal profession is one such discipline. There are plenty of 50+ solicitors who are scratching round to make a living and at the same time scared, terrified even, of their seemingly inevitable penniless future.

    This is driven in part by fantasies of attaining independent wealth by the time you reach your fifties (a few do, but not most). Appointment to senior posts at low levels of experience (you are said to be senior with 3 years in the job). Practically every HR resourcing mistake is committed – I came across a General Counsel with only seven years experience. The clue to the issue and the job requirements is in the title – a General Counsel has to be across everything legal and delegate effectively.

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