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What's the hottest job of the future? It might very well be the "permalancer" — part-time contractors who can often appear to be regular members of an organization but aren't full-time employees.

The population of part-timers in the United States is growing fast, according to recruiters and government statistics: there are 27.4 million part-time jobs in the country, up 10 percent from 2007. By comparison, the number of full-time jobs during the same period has dropped by 4 million, to about 118 million. According to Adecco, a staffing firm, one full-time job will be created for every three or four permalancer positions in the coming year.

But the permalancer trend isn't driven just by companies looking to keep costs down and maintain a flexible workforce as business demands change. Many permalancers like the setup, for a multitude of reasons: most like having the freedom to choose when, where and for how long they work. "Contract work gives [permalancers] exposure to many different companies, work environments and projects," Matt Rivera, the director of customer solutions at staffing group Yoh, told The Chicago Tribune. "While it would seem like there's less stability because they're not working as a direct employee, for many workers with in-demand skills, it allows them to dictate the types of projects they work on and how much they work."

The growing trend poses some challenges for employers. The first one is legal: to prevent employers from exploiting workers, regulations protect independent contractors from being unfairly denied healthcare or other benefits. The second challenge is cultural: the size of the permalancer workforce means they make up a bigger share of a company's workforce. With that comes the need to ensure that they fit within the company. Here's how a handful of workplace experts recommend striking the right balance:

  • Make them feel included. According to creative consulting firm Cella, it's important to make your permalancers feel like they are a part of the team in order to keep and to give them the support they need to succeed. Include them in companywide meetings, celebrations or happy hour — whatever it is. Because of the legal concerns "many companies take an extreme approach [with respect to how and when part-time workers are included], which can cause the talent to feel like an outsider unnecessarily," Cella's Laura Berry writes. "The trick is to understand YOUR company’s specific regulations and communicate them openly."
  • Make contractor recruitment part of your hiring strategy. According to freelance network Elance, nearly 70 percent of freelancers claim they are happier and 79 percent are more productive working as a freelancer than as a full-time employee. The study also found that the average freelancer expected to earn 43 percent more in 2013 than they did in 2012. Companies should acknowledge this growing trend in the workforce and make room for it when hiring.
  • Expect they'll leave. Sometimes the need for the permalancer is no longer there: maybe the project ends or the budget changes. It is important to give your permalancer proper notice and also establish an understanding that they will do the same with you if and when they decide to move on.

 

Photo: Can Stock