'Super freelancers' get the big bucks, upend workplaces

Home > Business > Industry

print dictionary print

'Super freelancers' get the big bucks, upend workplaces

A growing number of highly-qualified professionals have been freelancing instead of being entirely committed to a single company since taking projects from big corporations often promises greater income.
The Software Policy & Research Institute define these "super freelancers" as "those who perform work per project and seek work based on industry reputation" in a report in December last year. Super freelancers are in contrast to freelancers, who usually experience poor treatment in industries and are typically less skilled than full-time employees.
Some of them — mostly in tech and marketing — are working for a company but take side jobs through freelance platforms.
According to business market platform Kmong, there are more than 300 employees working for seven companies — Naver, Kakao, Line, Coupang, Baedal Minjok, Carrot Market, and Toss — who have registered to work side jobs on Kmong. The IT outsourcing platform Wishket said people "doing what they want to do, when they want, and where they want" are increasing in number.  
"What super freelancers fear most is technology obsolescence," said Lee Jong-ju, a researcher at the Software Policy & Research Institute. "If they do not overcome that, they will be eliminated from the market."
More and more companies are looking for super freelancers. Outsourcing of "core tasks," such as advanced software development, is also on the rise. This is because projects can be carried out much more quickly through outsourcing.
If past professionals were valued because of their licenses, super freelancers prove their worth with the work and skills they have accumulated. Most of them have worked for a company, built up their careers and converted to freelancing.
The first super freelancers were IT developers, but over the past two years, they are found in more fields.  
"The demand for super freelancers is increasing in all fields with expertise, such as new business development, management strategy, marketing and market development," said an official from Talentbank, a company-worker matching platform.
"There is a clear trend of increasing the use of super freelancers in fields such as taxation, legal affairs and labor," said Kim Tae-hun, vice president of Kmong. "Super freelancers are regarded as those who earn more than 100 million won per year ($76,900), and the number of super freelancers has increased by more than 20 percent compared to last year."
Changes in work cycles for regular jobs is a factor for the increase of super freelancers. The number of people who have multiple side jobs is on the rise as hours outside of work are increasing due to the onset of 4-day, or 40-hour, workweeks. According to Statistics Korea, the number of people working side jobs was 566,000 last year, the highest ever. There were not only side jobs for making a living, such as delivery work or chauffeur services, but also people who sought to increase their income.  
Matching freelancers to jobs, which was done mostly through word of mouth in the past, is now conducted through online platforms. In Korea, WantedGigs, Wishket, Talentbank and Kmong are some of the human resources (HR) platforms that super freelancers flock to.
These HR platforms inform freelancers of appropriate income for their work and career.
"Super freelancers generally earn about 20 percent more than workers with the same years of work experience and skills," said an official from WantedGigs.
As corporate project requests become more sophisticated and super freelancers are subdivided, the technology to match them must also become smarter. Platforms that match freelancers with jobs are using advanced technology, such as data analysis, to make the best matches. It compares the information provided by freelancers with the project proposed by companies to find the best fits.
"It takes about a week from the time a matching request is received to the actual contract," said Lee Dong-hoon, team leader of WantedGigs. "Reducing this period will be the core competitiveness of platforms."
According to Upwork, a freelance platform based in San Francisco and a Nasdaq listed company, the proportion of freelancers they place in professional technical jobs in the United States continued to grow from 45 percent in 2019 to 50 percent in 2020 and 53 percent in 2021. The proportion of freelancers with a master's degree was the highest by educational level, with 51 percent. In addition, platforms such as Fiverr and Guru are also growing rapidly.
As this is a new field, there are many problems to be solved. Super freelancers usually find work by registering their profile on five or more platforms. Ultimately, securing a monopoly of super freelancers who do well is the key to competitiveness.  
The key to hiring companies is to select the right experts and entrust them with the work.
"Recently, HR platforms have started to verify the skills of super freelancers in various forms including ratings after project completion, but there is still a gap because there is not much accumulated data," said an official from one company.
From the point of view of freelancers, there is still a lack of regulations to prevent companies from delaying the payment of commissions or asking for additional tasks to be completed, different from that requested at the time of the contract.
Trends in the labor market change quickly, but institutional changes are always late. Super freelancers tend to have higher incomes than gig economy workers. It is a concern for some that super freelancer incomes are hard to track. Many are worried that a controversy related to YouTubers back in 2019, which had risen because it is difficult to properly estimate the income of YouTubers, might be repeated.
"It is necessary to prepare a unified tax base for super freelancers who engage in web-based labor activities, as their employment relationships with global companies will increase just like it did with YouTubers," said Park Ji-soon, a professor of law at Korea University Law School.
Industrial accident insurance does not apply to super freelancers, which is problematic. In May, as the amendment to the Labor Relations Act passed in the National Assembly, it became possible for some special employment workers, such as delivery workers, to apply for industrial accident insurance. The amendment does not cover freelancers.
"It would be efficient to create and implement autonomous rules for each industry or job title before the enactment of laws," said professor Park.

BY LEE SEUNG-HO, KWEN YU-JIN [lim.jeongwon@joongang.co.kr]
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)