Why the Employment Landscape is Shifting

…and how Actalent's Apt Professional is keeping companies relevant in a rapidly changing world

apt professionals (male and female) working together at a desk with laptop
Apt Professional: engineering and sciences professional who keep companies relevant in exchange for autonomy, flexibility, and competitive pay.

The Apt Professional:

Apt: skilled, happy, flexible, relevant, fitting

Apt Professional: a person with in-demand skills and capabilities in engineering and sciences who keep companies relevant for a rapidly changing world in exchange for autonomy, flexibility, and competitive pay.

"Actalent offers our consultants the security and care all people crave, while offering the benefits of the next evolution of the freelance economy. Highly skilled, Apt Professionals can move from project to project, picking up new skills and experiences as they evolve their career. In the end, a career is a journey, not a destination." — John Flanigan, Vice President of Strategic Operations at Actalent


Even as the economy struggles with the aftershocks of a pandemic, supply chain issues, war, inflation, and high interest rates, the labor market remains strong. Companies continue to compete for skilled engineering and sciences talent in an economy with record-low unemployment and consistently high demand. Even before higher interest rates caused CEOs to slow hiring plans, many companies had already partnered with workforce solution providers to fill critical gaps. Considering the millions of workers who have joined the independent and contingent workforce, that strategy could pay off.

  • Applications for Employer Identification Numbers (EIN) have increased 40 percent since 2019
  • 57.3 million US workers have joined the Gig Economy, which translates to 36 percent of the workforce
  • 3.2 million workers are still missing from the workforce, according to Lightcast data
  • 4.1 million workers quit their jobs in December 2022

The Rise of the Independent (Contingent) Worker

And what it tells us about the future of work

Today, companies aren’t just competing against other companies for talent; they’re competing against entrepreneurship: consultants, contractors, freelancers—those who’ve struck out on their own.

For generations, people have wanted the freedom to choose where they work, their purpose for working, who they work with, and what they work on. The last couple of years gave many the opportunity to figure out how to make that happen. According to recent data, the gig economy has grown three times faster than the total US workforce, with approximately 36 percent of workers participating in some way. That number is expected to grow to more than 50 percent by 2027, particularly as employers and workers across all industries recognize the benefits independent workers produce and afford.

The Evolution and Expansion of the Independent Worker

Advancements in digital technology have split open the market for nontraditional work both in scope and geography. Craftspeople aren't waiting for the annual art festival downtown to sell their creations, they're on Etsy or using Shopify to ship off custom requests year-round; software engineers, content writers, and information technologists are completing projects from one mile away or 5,000 miles away.

With nearly one third of US workers now holding an “alternative job” as their primary job, these gigs are occurring less on-the-side and more front-and-center. Given the scarcity of available talent, the high rate of job quits, and the pursuit of freedom and flexibility among many workers, companies that choose to look away do so at the risk of obsoletion.

Savvy organizations are relying on contingent or independent workforces to find specialized skillsets on-demand and without the added expense of making them full-time employees. Independent workers, or Apt Professionals in the case of engineering and sciences, ensure that companies continue to grow, innovate, and expand with agility and flexibility, particularly in a tough economy.

A Brief History of the Gig Economy

The initial spike of gig workers occurred in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis and amid rapid advancements in digital technologies. Suddenly unemployed—or underemployed—workers replaced or supplemented income by taking on flexible work found through online platforms. But as the economy recovered, this “new dimension of work” didn’t go away, it strengthened.

In 2020, during the global pandemic, the opportunities (and necessity) for workers to pick up gigs or side hustles expanded with online platforms as stores shutdown and delivery services picked up. Many rose to the call and kept services running that would otherwise have shuttered.

Certain skillsets were instrumental in the efforts of companies scrambling to digitally transform, practically overnight. Almost every company became a tech company in need of workers with skills to build, deliver, or promote contactless, touchless, curbside, and/or virtual service.

At the same time, those clocking in and out of more traditional career trajectories began taking stock of their lives: how they spent time, how they desired to spend it, the impact they were making, what they wanted out of life.

Many let themselves wonder about a different way—a more flexible way, perhaps a more efficient way.

And judging by the numbers, a lot of those workers didn’t just wonder, they pursued.

The growth of full-time independent workers:

2012:    11.2 million workers

2019:    12.4 million workers

2020:    13.6 million workers

2021:    17 million workers

Between 2012 and 2021, growth among workers pursuing full-time work in the gig economy increased by 51.8 percent, with the largest gain occurring between 2019 and 2021. Many workers who lost their job in the early days of the pandemic went to work for themselves; others migrated toward it later, during The Great Realization.

The Employment Landscape for is Shifting for Everyone

Since the pandemic recovery, more than 4 million workers have quit their jobs each month in search of better pay, increased flexibility, and meaning in their work.

Companies have shown their willingness to adapt to these shifts, placing greater emphasis on employee engagement, improving corporate culture, and with nearly 58 percent of companies offering some form of remote or telework arrangements to employees who desire increased flexibility, and a greater emphasis on improving corporate culture.

Currently, the labor market is experiencing a dramatic shortage of skilled workers in engineering and sciences. In fact, unemployment rates in those categories consistently fall below the overall unemployment rate. Even as the Fed attempts to loosen the tight labor market by increasing interest rates, and thereby increasing unemployment (either through layoffs or higher labor force participation rates) the labor market remains stubbornly strong.

And there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight, particularly as economists predict 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 every day for the next twenty years.

All this to say, demand will only increase and workers with skills in engineering and sciences will continue to be well-positioned to seek out employment that provides both flexibility and variety. And, if they’re unable to find it with their current employer, they’ll find it with another. Job quits remained above 4M for the 18th consecutive month in December 2022. Another possibility: even more workers might strike out on their own.

Furthermore, work and jobs are changing fast. Certain skills are becoming rapidly out of date, while other, new skills are emerging.  Companies looking to find new ways to get important work done are navigating these supply/demand, emerging/obsolete challenges in different ways, for example:

  1. Some are getting creative with how they think about work. Rather than hiring for a "job" they're hiring for skills and abilities and matching skills to projects, rather than positions. This approach also allows employers to easily identify skill gaps. Rather than look for new workers to fill those gaps, are finding ways to upskill and retrain the workers they already have.
  2. There is no end in sight to the current labor shortage, which is expected to be compounded by the anticipated decline in college enrollment. Therefore, several companies are creating their own solutions to upskill existing workers and engage and recruit future ones.

The Apt Professional and Actalent

Additionally, companies are increasingly relying on partnerships with specialized talent solutions and services companies, such as Actalent, which coined the Apt Professional term due to its offer of flexible work arrangements, match of skills and interests to opportunities, competitive salaries and benefits, and exceptional care and career development to its consultants. In exchange, those Apt Professionals keep companies relevant in a rapidly changing world.

Actalent provides its consultants the benefits of the “gig economy” without any of the risk.

The number of independent workers in the US has surged 69% since the pandemic, source: MBO Partners, State of Independence in America 2022. And just this year compared to last, the number of independent workers rose 26% to a total 64.6 million.

Staffing Industry Analyst (SIA) defines gig work to include any contingent work of a fixed duration, such as work done by temporary workers and independent contractors grouped into the following categories:

  • temporary workers assigned by a staffing agency,
  • people working via talent platforms or work services platforms,
  • other independent contractors and business owners with no employees,
  • other temporary workers (sourced directly), and
  • salaried employees of consulting firms on consulting engagements with clients.

The Risks of Independent (or Gig) Work

  1. Hustle. Independent workers are their own boss, which means they’re on the hook for finding their own work. Online platforms have made connecting consumers with skills for hire, but it still takes time and effort to set up credentials and convince a client they’ve found the perfect guy or gal for the gig. That part of the work never turns off: as soon as one gig is landed, the hunt for the next one begins.
  2. Unpredictable income. Unlike working a traditional job, pay in the gig economy can be erratic at first. Some weeks are feast, some might be famine. There is no shortage of discipline as a gig worker—discipline over time, hustle, and money.
  3. No benefits. In exchange for freedom and flexibility over how, when, and where work happens, gig workers often give up access to company sponsored health insurance, paid vacations, and retirement plans. That doesn’t mean there aren’t options for securing these perks, there are. But it will require time and effort to set up.
  4. Compartmentalization. Often, gig workers are known for one thing, which can limit career growth, and depending on the worker, get stale.

Comparison of Benefits versus Risk for Actalent Consultants/Apt Professionals and Independent/Gig Workers

Flexibility* Variety* Career Coaching/ Advisement* Consistent Income* Career Growth* Hustle* Benefits* High Output Production*
Actalent Consultant/Apt Professional x x x x x x x
Independent/Freelance Worker x x x x
*Table definitions provided in dark blue call-out

Working as an Apt Professional is a great fit for engineering and sciences professionals looking to do meaningful work, and who desire variety in the projects they work on and flexibility in how and where their work gets done. Actalent is a perfect fit those looking to build a career as well as those who’ve recently retired from one but still want to generate income and contribute their skills and expertise to important work that makes a difference in the lives of others.

The main takeaways:

  • work has undergone a fundamental shift
  • the labor shortage will continue, likely worsen
  • generational and industry-related differences (e.g., those jobs that require on-site workers versus those that support remote/hybrid work) will continue to reshape traditional employment
  • technological advancements and lower college enrollments will require agile and on-demand skill development

But people will always want to work, they will always want to contribute, they will always be in search of a purpose. The employment landscape isn’t ending, it’s shifting. The choice for companies looking to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world isn’t whether they’ll participate, it’s how.

Table Definitions

Flexibility: Opportunity to determine how, where, and when work is completed

Variety: Opportunity to work on different projects with different clients

Career Coaching/Advisement: Skills, interests, and work preferences are matched to opportunities by a recruiter/career advisor

Consistent Income: Weekly pay

Career Growth: Offered opportunities to develop new skills and gain experiences that track with career goals

Hustle: Constantly working to seek the next opportunity

Benefits: Paid leave, retirement, health insurance

High Output Production: Highly motivated to produce because internal and external needs are met

Relevant Insights