The Pivigo Guide to the Data Science Freelance Economy

Posted 2017-05-12T Posted by Tom
With the need for and potential of data scientists continuing to increase, the talent pools in this area are regularly much too small to appease the appetite of some of the country’s biggest businesses and Brexit threatens to further diminish the stocks, with many skilled workers currently being concerned about potentially vulnerable visas. Fortunately, the booming freelance economy offers some welcome solutions and could prove to be the perfect answer to insufficiency in supply to meet UK demand for data scientists. As Peter Johnston for Forbes explains, “For leading companies, like Google and ASOS, a full 50% of their UK-based workforce is made up of freelancers. It’s also common for organisations to work with foreign contractors who are remote by, for example, outsourcing software development to Estonia.

While Article 50 will have a tremendous impact on full-time workers, freelancers are less susceptible to the unknowns. They don’t need to a visa as independent contractors, and therefore their fate is more predictable in this shifting landscape”. The Forbes article highlights the impact that Brexit will have on availability of talent in the UK, detailing that “The homegrown supply of engineers in the UK is insufficient to meet demand, and so companies have had to look elsewhere. As an example, more than half of Lystable’s Engineering team are on working visas from continental Europe”.

There has been an enormous hike in the UK freelance economy since 2009, with an increase of 25%. The skilled and experienced freelance worker pool allows firms from a range of industries to access the support of talented workers for a variety of projects and over differing service times. The freelance economy, according to IPSE the self-employed and freelance membership association, generates around £109 billion a year from the 2 million freelance workers. Forbes explains that there are shifting attitudes towards freelancers across a spectrum of industries and that rather than these workers being seen as temporary ‘gig’ fulfillers, “the freelance economy is about businesses being able to source and onboard the best skilled talent, regardless of where those people happen to be”.

Changing Perceptions Of Freelancing

Working with freelancers brings a host of benefits to both parties, with the freedoms and flexibilities of freelancing attracting the workers as well as being motivators for recruiters. Hiring data scientists from freelance pools introduces fresh thinking and action into a firm, producing often rapid results and allows the freelancer to benefit from a varied and constantly moving career. Businesses further benefit from being able to utilise the elite skills of some of the country’s most exceptional freelancing talent whilst not being obliged to meet expensive contractual obligations and employee benefit packages. In a recent Harvard Review article, Diane Mulcahy, a post-grad university lecturer explains why she encourages her students to begin their careers in freelance, stating:
“Growth in the number of jobs is stagnating and full-time jobs are both insecure and risky. Companies no longer make promises of either professional or financial security to today’s workforce”.

Insecurities about the economy mean that employers and employees are seeking ways in which the prime positions can be filled without long-term and costly binds; freelancing is the perfect solution. Businesses can access talent at all levels, tackle large projects without making extending employment commitments and benefit from some of the most skilled and talented workers. Techdigg explains that “Global demand for remote freelance services continues to rise as more companies and entrepreneurs turn to peer-to-peer marketplaces to satisfy their business needs.” This business without borders way of accessing talent means that some of the most skilled workers are accessible to firms that might otherwise be unable to hire them. Data science freelancers acknowledge that their work will call them to new locations for varying amounts of time and as such, the opportunities to hire the elite in this field opens significantly to businesses who employ from the freelancing workforce.

Of course, the flexibility of freelance is a driving force behind many workers’ choosing this route but the benefits to a business are also significant. Hiring a freelancer to meet a temporary spike in demand, address the needs of a large project or offer support only when needed is a cost-effective and savvy business minded approach. Recode explains in a recent article that “Forward-thinking companies are taking a two-pronged approach: They’re abandoning their hiring biases and scrapping outdated job requirements in order to open their pipelines to newer tech talent”. With the money saved on hiring more cost-effective workers, businesses are then able to reinvest in developing workers and establishing teams for future projects and in some instances, permanent employment.

How Do Businesses Access Freelance Talent Pools?

Once a company acknowledges the talent potential that lies in freelancing pools and is prepared to source workers in this way, the possibility of hiring some of the most talented professionals from across the country opens up. This on-demand approach to hiring and team-building means that solutions to business needs are quickly arranged, and done so through specialised pathways that connect businesses with the right freelancers.

When a talented freelancer is sourced by a business, many companies continue to cultivate that relationship for future endeavours. As considered above, the “two-pronged” approach to utilising the freelance workforce can be an ideal way for businesses to access this talent without compromising security or progression. As Recode explains: “The key to successfully pulling off the first half of the two-pronged strategy is to break existing patterns at the recruitment level. When recruiters recognise that they’ve hired a highly successful employee, many times they’ll continue to “pattern match” — returning to the same candidate pool to recruit other candidates who look similar on paper.”. To be clear - this isn’t copying and pasting to build a team, rather that, from a business perspective, it’s more cost effective and time efficient to return to the source of your good hires to build your team.

Key Benefits For Businesses in the Freelancer Economy

Hiring freelancers was once considered to be a temporary solution to employment gaps that could not be filled by workers living close to the business. Now, many companies are realising that employing freelancers is the preferred approach. Partly this is driven by necessity -  71 percent of employers that claim they can’t find suitable technology candidates, so the skills gap is real. However, businesses are also starting to realise there are add-on benefits to the freelancer approach:
  1. Cost Effective - Utilise expert skills, impressive experience levels and innovative approaches for a fraction of the time and cost that it takes to recruit elsewhere
  2. Global and diverse - Good talent hubs operate globally, so businesses have access to a far wider (and far more diverse) global data science talent pool.
  3.  Flexible - Businesses have greater flexibility to build specialist teams of data scientists for short-term projects, and at short notice.
Freelancing is a trend that is growing rapidly, and businesses that adopt early will realise a competitive advantage.

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