Free Agency Appeals to Higher-Educated U.S. Professional/Technical Talent Looking for Greater Control Over Their Careers

    Findings from 2015 Free Agent Survey Conducted by Kelly Services®

    TROY, Mich. (October 6, 2015) – The typical free agent worker in the United States is more likely to be highly educated and possess professional or technical skills compared with traditional workers, according to the Kelly Services® 2015 Free Agent Survey.

    While free agents – defined as individuals who consult; perform temporary, freelance or independent contract work; or have their own business – boast a wide range of skills and educational backgrounds, nearly seven in ten (69%) U.S. free agents possess a professional/technical skill set, compared with 57% of traditional workers, the survey reports. The global trend is similar, with free agents who possess professional/technical skills representing 70% of free agents in Asia-Pacific (APAC) and 66% in Europe.

    Free agents in the United States also tend to hold higher degrees than traditional workers, according to the survey. Among free agents, 61% hold bachelor’s degrees or higher, compared with 52% of traditional workers.

    “Highly educated and skilled professional and technical workers want to remain agile so they can advance their learning and control their own destiny. As a result, many of them are turning to free agency as a long-term career choice because of the freedom, flexibility and entrepreneurial advantages they gain,” said Steve Armstrong, senior vice president and general manager of U.S. operations for Kelly Services. “Employers need to be aware of this trend as they manage their talent supply chain. To continue to attract professional and technical candidates with the high level of expertise and diverse experience required, employers will have to keep their doors open to just-in-time talent by offering more flexible, non-traditional work arrangements.”

    Kelly Services has researched the free agent workforce for more than a decade. The 2015 study is its first global survey and includes the views of more than 5,200 working adults across three regions – the United States, Europe, and APAC. According to the survey, nearly 31% of workers throughout the three regions identify themselves as free agents – including 31% in the U.S., 27% in Europe and 34% in APAC.

    Highly satisfied

    Overall, U.S. free agents express high levels of satisfaction and have a strong desire to maintain their independent working arrangements, with three out of five free agents (60%) having no desire to work as a traditional employee. Free agents in the United States are significantly more satisfied than their traditionally employed peers with their opportunity to expand their skills (free agents: 60%, traditional workers: 44%), career advancement opportunities (48% vs. 41%),  work/life balance (61% vs. 52%), and their level of stress in their current employment situation (50% vs. 40%).

    “The survey results indicate that U.S. free agents are particularly positive about their work arrangement and prefer the career control and balanced lifestyle that free agency offers,” Armstrong said. “These advantages are making free agency an increasingly viable option for workers, especially those in the highly skilled professions, who want greater control over their career paths and more opportunity to expand their skills while maintaining a balanced lifestyle.”

    Choosing free agency for the right reasons

    The 2015 survey reports that almost one-third (31%) of all U.S. workers identify themselves as free agents. This is an upward trend compared with 2008 when the percentage was only 26%. In 2011, conditions drove free agency to 44% in the United States as more workers were driven to consider free agency based on economic necessity.

    “Only 10% of today’s free agents in the United States say they are driven into their current working arrangement because of economic necessity, compared with 20% four years ago when the economy was still struggling to recover from the recession,” said Armstrong. “What we’re seeing now is that workers who choose to be free agents are doing so willingly, motivated by the freedom, flexibility and entrepreneurial benefits.

    Moreover, the majority of free agents are committed to this style of work as a lifelong career choice, with more than half (53%) of free agents saying they are “in it for life.” Younger and mid-career workers report some of the highest commitment levels, with 62% of Generation Y and 61% of Generation X free agents committed to the workstyle for life.

    Appealing to traditional workers and all generations

    “In addition, free agency is appealing to traditional, non-free-agent workers,” Armstrong said. “In the United States, 25% of traditional workers say they would consider working as a free agent in the future. Further, 79% of traditional workers say they believe free agency would give them more opportunities to use the skills they enjoy in their field of work.”

    Traditional workers belonging to the “Silent Generation” (age 70 and older) are particularly tempted, as are workers from Generation Y. In the United States, 76% of Silent Generation workers are free agents, up 10 percentage points from 2011 and well above 2008 levels. Among Generation Y, 26% of U.S. workers are free agents, up from 25% in 2011 and 21% in 2008.

    Free agency trends also are on the rise for Generation X and Baby Boomers in the United States, although the 2015 percentages are down somewhat from 2011, due to the economic recovery. For Generation X, the U.S. free agency percentage of 28% in 2015 compares with 18% in 2008. For the Baby Boomer generation, free agents currently represent 36% of workers, compared with 27% in 2008.

    SURVEY METHODOLOGY: The 2015 free agent research was conducted online by Inavero® on behalf of Kelly Services among a representative sample of adults active in the global workforce.

    For additional information on the free agent workforce, please visit

    Kelly Services, Inc.

    As a global leader in providing workforce solutions, Kelly Services, Inc. (Nasdaq: KELYA, KELYB) and its subsidiaries, offer a comprehensive array of outsourcing and consulting services as well as world-class staffing on a temporary, temporary-to-hire, and direct-hire basis. Kelly® has a role in managing employment opportunities for more than one million workers around the globe by employing 550,000 of these individuals directly with the remaining workers engaged through its talent supply chain network of supplier partners. Revenue in 2014 was $5.6 billion. Visit and connect with us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

    Jane Stehney
    Kelly Services, Inc.
    Amy McGahan
    Dix & Eaton PR