Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec - reinventing work - 10/2000

The age of the free agent dawns

The launch of heralds a move towards a free agent' economy among qualified consultants who value the greater independence, increased flexibility and bigger pay packets they enjoy through working for themselves.

The UK has the longest average working hours in Europe but, increasingly, we are following the trend in America where the number of self-employed is burgeoning and now accounts for 24% of the workforce, some 27 million people. Predictions are for the trend to continue and it is expected that by 2010, more than half of all working adults in the USA will be freelancers.

The move towards self-employment has not been forced by redundancy. Figures from the US Bureau of Labour Statistics show that 85% of free agents say they have made the switch through choice to enhance their quality of life and their earnings. They typically earn 15% more, than their employed counterparts.

In the UK, attitudes to work and working patterns are changing and believes that more and more professionals will seek to improve their quality of life by working independently. A recent survey by telephone bank First Direct revealed that 40% of the UK workforce would like to be self-employed. One of the major stumbling blocks to many people is the absence of an effective mechanism that allows independent professionals to find work.

There are more than 1,000 agencies currently operating in the IT market alone, providing client companies with services such as: supplying a selection of CVs from its database; arranging interviews between client and contractor; negotiating terms & conditions and arranging contracts between the parties.

For that, they charge fees which are spread over the life of the contract and average anywhere from 15 to 20% of the client company's total costs, which equates to around 10,000 a year for each contractor.

However, many companies do not feel that agencies provide sufficient value for money, largely because the quality of the consultants the agencies employ is low and that they have limited experience of technical recruitment. conducted its own research to establish the likely level of demand for its services which will break the mould of the traditional agencies. More than 76% of independent IT contractors said they were very or quite likely to use the service. They cited cutting out the middleman and the ability to market themselves through's database as the main advantages of the service.

Among client companies, more than 54% said they would be very or quite likely to use the service and showed a strong interest in what had to offer.

Given this climate, is convinced it can take on the traditional agencies head-to-head and emerge as a winner. Few of them would be able to compete on price and virtually none could offer the same functionality.