Millions of young Americans are experiencing a “quarter-life crisis.” They understand that the economy and the nature of work have changed forever. Economists and researchers continue to wag their fingers at the grim specter of recession, yet I believe something more substantial is taking shape. Workers today seek a calling more than a career. They crave purpose, autonomy and exploration. Managing one’s vocation successfully is no different than managing a business. And that’s why the contingent workforce has the power to help modern talent evolve and achieve their aspirations. As we’ll see, even temporary gigs can forge the foundation of permanent accomplishments. In fact, it’s possible that the Great Recession has spawned a Great Progression in hiring, entrepreneurialism and workforce development.

September Jobs Report: The Devil Is in the Details

The September employment report offered no real surprises, gains or noteworthy shifts. Analysts had expected the addition of about 180,000 new jobs, which would have satisfied the current average of 178,000 positions. However that figure fell short of the mark, coming in at around 156,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). There was one interesting footnote, though. Of the 67,000 jobs created in the professional services category, 23,000 (34 percent) resulted from contingent work, making non-traditional employment one of the fastest growing job producers in the market. During June and July, new opportunities in contract positions averaged close to 40,000 each month. That’s not all.

  • Today, 53 million Americans are independent workers, according to studies by the Freelancers Union. These professionals are contractors, sole business owners, gig workers and contingent talent.
  • In the next 10 years, over half the workforce (145 million Americans) will be free agents.
  • According to the Total Early Stage Entrepreneurial Index (TEA), there’s been a 77 percent increase in entrepreneurs across all global economies.
  • Based on EY’s Megatrends 2015 survey, 70 percent of Millennials from 42 countries view themselves as entrepreneurs.
  • About 126 million women are launching their own businesses worldwide, according to the same research.

Why are these shifts toward independence and non-traditional employment occurring? People are dissatisfied with wild income inequality, insecurity and stifled potential in regular career arrangements. They are seeking their own opportunities in the cloud-enabled global market. More than freedom, growth and flexibility, today’s professionals long to find purpose and meaning in the work they perform.

The Modern Job Search: A Calling, Not a Career

Over the past three years, the idea of employment culture has blossomed into a critical hiring strategy. It’s a nuanced discussion with many corollaries. At the heart of it, though, pulses the concept of a higher purpose — a calling.

Millennials, in particular, are members of an incredibly introspective generation. They’ve been raised through decades punctuated by strife, uncertainty, instability and a pretty severe drought in global financial markets. Although some people view Millennials as aimless and floundering, they’re quite the opposite. In the traditional spectrum of employment, they’ve added a new layer. According to Psychology Today, there are three stages in career progression.

  • It’s My Job: Talent in this category see work as a necessary evil, a means to narrowly defined ends. A job translates to little more than a steady paycheck, benefits and a sense of security. These individuals are less prone to be personally engaged in the organization, the work itself and the culture. They prefer set hours and a separation between their working lives and their private affairs.
  • It’s My Career: Individuals in this category concern themselves with career mobility, advancement, performance and status. Their goal is to succeed in a role, develop skills and move up the corporate ladder for higher earnings and prestigious titles. While they are more committed to the company’s culture, it’s often born from a sense of accomplishment and social standing.
  • It’s My Calling: Talent who have found their calling in a position are deeply invested in the mission of the enterprise. They see their work as a form of self-fulfillment and personal expression. They don’t draw distinguishing lines between their professional and personal aims. They view the office as an extension of their relationships and their communities. The job gives meaning to their ambitions and compels them to grow.

Younger professionals are more obsessed with the question “What do I want to be when I grow up?” than their predecessors. They may advance through the early stages of the career model, yet their ultimate objective is to reach the third level — to discover and embrace their calling. That drive has encouraged them to take more risks, try new roles and experiment with different jobs. It’s also what contingent workforce leaders can offer them.

Contingent Work: Stepping Stones on the Path to a Calling

In her August article for Forbes, Virginia Franco presents several reasons why “temping may be your next savvy career move.” She acknowledges that not every contingent worker chooses contingent roles outside of circumstance. However, she articulately explains the positive outcomes that contract positions deliver. For young professionals who are starting to venture along the path toward their calling, I believe the benefits Virginia discusses are tremendously relevant.

Explore Your Options

“Temping is a perfect way to test the waters in a new role or industry when your experience in the niche is lacking, or when competition for a full-time role is steep,” writes Franco. Contract roles allow talent to examine different industries, business cultures and jobs. If an individual has a strong interest in a particular company or position, contingent engagements may help them get their feet in the door and test their skills to see how applicable they are. If a person has embarked on a quest to find his or her calling, this is the best first step.

Develop and Enrich Your Network

Contract work, with its variety, exposes talent to new people. Those individuals could become mentors, advisers or influential contacts for other positions more aligned with the worker’s calling.

Mask Career Gaps

As young professionals begin to assess their motivations and passions, they may take time off to ponder their next move. Once out of the workforce, however, reentry can become challenging as the intervening months pile up. Contingent work has historically been a great way to bridge employment gaps and get talent back into the mainstream.

Skill Development

This is essential to workers who are trying to find the best fit for their abilities and aspirations. Contingent roles provide a unique chance for talent to try new projects, expand their existing skill sets, embrace alternate methods and approaches to problem solving, and tap into the diverse intelligence of colleagues across various companies and environments. As young workers hone their skills, they become more attuned to jobs in which they’ll flourish — and which will unveil their true calling.

Freedom and Flexibility

The journey toward one’s calling is equal parts activity and philosophy. “An appealing aspect of temp work is that you get to choose who and when you want to work,” Franco explains. “This level of freedom or flexibility is not possible once you accept a permanent role.”

Beyond work-life balance, the liberty afforded by contract assignments allows talent to focus intensely on what they hope to achieve. In a regular position, all hours in the working day must be concentrated on fulfilling the duties and demands of that role. The elasticity in time that comes with contingent work facilitates introspection and exploration.

The Door to Your Calling

“The statistics are revealing when it comes to analyzing your chances of making the leap from temporary to permanent work,” Franco observes. “Over one-third of temporary workers were offered permanent work during a temporary assignment, and more than two-thirds of those accepted the full-time offers, according to the American Staffing Association.”

Many workers want to pursue companies that share the same lofty ideals and visions for improving their worlds. Unfortunately, in-demand companies bring scores of competing candidates. Entering the business through a contingent workforce program is considerably easier. It also allows talent to showcase their potential to these employers, with a higher probability of transitioning to regular work.

Managing Your Career as a Business

The burgeoning on-demand economy has dramatically changed the nature of work. Consumers and companies are decoupling. In many ways, talent are beginning to function as service providers for the employers they support, which in turn are becoming customers. As today’s professionals strive toward realizing their callings, they must also think of themselves as micro-business entities. Phil La Duke illustrates this in his recent article for Entrepreneur Magazine. Contingent work offers talent the experience to manage their careers as entrepreneurial endeavors.

  • You remain independent. As studies have shown, switching jobs usually leads to higher compensation. You also get to choose your vocational destination and the terms of the relationship.
  • You build your own employment brand. Across your experiences in different contingent workforce programs, you gain credibility, a wealth of influential contacts and a vibrant portfolio of achievements with multiple organizations — all of it highlighting your value and contributions.
  • You’re continuously learning and developing. “Society dangerously reveres those who are staunch and unyielding in their beliefs,” La Duke notes. Yet, those individuals with more stubbornness than conviction or wisdom often fail. Contingent workforce programs expose talent to different opinions, fresh perspectives and diversity of thought. This leads to great skills development, innovative problem solving and an understanding of what your real calling could be.
  • You conquer your fears. A new job, especially in the company where your calling lies, can be daunting. The fear of failure is overwhelming at times. Transitioning through different organizations, business cultures and industries exposes talent to a variety of different situations — with the unknown growing more familiar at each juncture.

In this new era of employment, change is constant and attaining the job that answers your calling is an adventure — sometimes fraught, yet always brimming with discovery. Contingent work accommodates this well. And what better way to allay your concerns, test your mettle and learn what makes you tick?