Which industries in the USA are the biggest employers of independent contractors? Please provide the top 10, together with the number of independent contractors that each industry employs. What types of independent contractors (e.g. skill sets) do...

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Which industries in the USA are the biggest employers of independent contractors? Please provide the top 10, together with the number of independent contractors that each industry employs. What types of independent contractors (e.g. skill sets) do these companies use the most?

Hello! It is my pleasure to respond to your query in providing you with information on contract workers / independent contractors in the US. As requested, I’ve included general estimates on the numbers of these workers, as well as the industries most often hiring them, and the types of jobs being hired.

According to the Department for Professional Employees (AFL-CIO), in 2015, there were more than 15.4 million “self-employed and temporary workers”. Since this information has not been tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics since 2005, this data comes from “CPS self-employment data, non-governmental surveys of the independent workforce, the CPS contingent workforce supplements, and industry employment data.” It is important to note that this item will be reinstated as of May 2017 – with new data expected to be released any time. Of these, 46% “worked in management, professional, and related occupations”. Additionally, they report that, in May 2016, there were nearly 2.9 million temporary workers in the US (one category of contract worker), which accounts for 6% of all US job growth from 2010 to 2016. It is important to note, however, that the Freelancers Union, as detailed in the same report, estimates that there are as many as 53 - 54 million contingent workers in the US, or one-third of the total US workforce. “The Freelancers Union defines the contingent workforce to include contract company workers, agency temps, on-call workers/day laborers, direct-hire temps, self-employed workers, independent contractors, and standard part-time workers.” This – and other – research shows that, since the BLS doesn’t count these statistics at this time, there can only be “general estimates” to the actual numbers and not true/accurate data. TalentWave notes that, “A study by Intuit predicts that 40% of the American workforce will be comprised of freelancers, contractors, and temporary employees by 2020. Some experts predict that 50% of the U.S. workforce could be contingent by 2030.”

The Freelancing in America Survey denotes five types of freelancers/contract workers (numbers are out of 53 million total workers of this type):
• Independent Contractors (40% of freelance workforce = 21.1 million workers)
• Moonlighters (27% = 14.3 million workers)
• Diversified Workers (18% = 9.3 million workers)
• Temporary Workers (10% = 5.5 million workers)
• Freelance Business Owners (5% = 2.8 million workers)

The AFL-CIO report notes that part of the increases over the last 10 years in contingent workers is due to employers trying to save money. They “can save 20 – 40 percent by hiring an independent contractor instead of a traditional employee”. CIO reports that “95 percent of businesses now view this new workforce [gig labor] as a key element to developing and running a successful business”.

According to the AFL-CIO, the largest concentration of self-employed workers held management positions (22%), legal positions (19%), or positions in the arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media industries (31%). For temporary workers, “professional and technical” occupations made up the largest sector this at 18%; this group also showed the largest growth. Additionally, substitute teachers made up a large majority of contract education workers; contract HR specialists made up for 52% in the business and financial sector; and healthcare practitioners like nurses made up the largest group in the medical industry.

TalentWave reports that the top 10 industries for freelancers include:
1. Computer & IT
2. Administrative
3. Accounting & Finance
4. Customer Service
5. Software Development
6. Medical & Health
7. Project Management
8. Research Analyst
9. Writing
10. Education & Training

These industries (for 2015) were confirmed by JobHunt and FlexJobs.

NOTE: If you’d like information on those industries that hired the most in 2012 (and still hire large numbers of contingent workers), check out this infographic from Payable. This spreadsheet from Payable shows the full list of 110 of the most common self-employed US professions in 2012 – as well as the number of workers estimated in each.

Now, let’s talk about estimates for the numbers of workers currently hired in each industry listed above. Although the report above notes general/rough estimates for 2012, these are too old to be valid in 2017, so I did not detail them for you. After exhaustive research into finding more current numbers, I have determined that these numbers are not actually tracked by any organization – and are not publicly available. Because of the discrepancies in total estimates of all contract employees, because the BLS has not tracked this data for more than 10 years, and because of the varied natures of these positions and how they are counted, I can conclude that these numbers are not available. Possibly when the BLS produces their newest set of numbers (soon, they say), this will be better tracked and more accurate (and current) estimates will be availble. For now, however, any numbers I gave you would either be outdated or VERY rough estimates, neither of which can be considered solid.

Next, let’s look at the positions / occupations wherein contract workers are most-often hired.

JobHunt and FlexJobs report on the most common jobs in these top fields, as noted below:
• Computers & IT: Developers, Engineers, Desktop Support, Systems Analysts, QA Testers
• Administrative & Customer Service: Customer Service Representatives, Admin Assistants, HR Coordinators, Accounts Clerks, Support Specialists, Paralegals
• Accounting & Finance: Accountants, Financial Analysts, Financial Specialists, Regulatory Analysts
• Software Development: Developers, Coders, Engineers, Testers
• Medical & Health: Nurses, Medical Technical Professionals
• Project Management: Project Managers, Project Coordinators
• Research Analyst: Research Specialists, Research Analysts
• Writing: Writers, Editors (for tech manuals/docs, experts tips/advice, curricula, social media, print/digital media)
• Education & Training: Teachers/faculty, Assessment Consultants, Curriculum Writers, Instructional Designers

This article from the BLS discusses some of the biggest industries hiring (and expecting to hire) contract workers (and the jobs they’ll be hiring for):
• Arts & Design: Musicians, Graphic Designers, Craft & Fine Artists
• Computers & IT: Web Developers, Software Developers, Computer Programmers
• Construction & Extraction: Carpenters, Painters, Construction Workers
• Media & Communications: Technical Writers, Interpreters & Translators, Photographers
• Transportation & Material Moving: Delivery Drivers, On-Demand Drivers

The most valuable skills for today’s careers, and which are especially valuable in contract workers, include these from Time:
• Statistical Analysis (and/or Big Data Analysis)
• Data Mining / Warehousing
• Data Modeling
• Contract Negotiation
• Financial Analysis
• Search Engine Marketing
• Customer Service
• SAP Material Management
• Strategic Planning
• Business Analysis

For a great overview of the current and future contract work / gig economy, look to the Aspen Institute’s Workforce for the Future Survey 2016. Or, if you’d like some general statistics on the US Freelance Sector, this article from BenRMatthews might be helpful.

There are approximately 53 million contract workers in the US today. These include five categories of workers: Independent Contractors (40% of freelance workforce = 21.1 million workers); Moonlighters (27% = 14.3 million workers); Diversified Workers (18% = 9.3 million workers); Temporary Workers (10% = 5.5 million workers); and Freelance Business Owners (5% = 2.8 million workers).

The 10 US industries employing the most contract workers are: Computer & IT, Administrative, Accounting & Finance, Customer Service, Software Development, Medical & Health, Project Management, Research Analyst, Writing, and Education & Training. Statistics on the numbers of contract workers by industry are not tracked nor can they be found via any publicly-available and valid source. Any estimates found will vary widely because of the different ways these types of employees can be segmented.

Thank you again for your question, and I hope this information gives you what you need. Please contact Wonder again for any other questions you may have!

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