— The world is in the midst of a fundamental change in how people work and the words they use to describe it. When San Diego residents discuss full-time, permanent employment, it remains straightforward, “I work full-time at [insert employer].” However, how do they relate non-permanent employment?

Non-permanent employment spans all types of work and includes a wide range of positions where people can perform full-time-equivalent work, such as a Lyft or Uber driver or a six-month contract as an administrative assistant or a three-year position as a project engineer.

In recent years, there has been dramatic growth in organizations using non-permanent workers to enable greater flexibility and innovation as a means to better compete in today’s lightning-fast economy. According to industry reports, there are currently 50 million “free agents” in the U.S.

Why should San Diego employers care about this changing market dynamic?

First, millennials will largely account for the increase in free agent workers in the coming years, as work-life balance continues to play a key role in their employment decision-making process. Because San Diego has one of the largest populations of millennials among major metropolitan areas nationwide, according to separate reports from the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and real estate firm JLL, the composition of the city’s workforce will begin to lean heavily toward free agent growth in the coming years.

Second, employers can leverage the skills and expertise of as-needed workers without the restraints and bureaucracy of employment practices. In fact, how organizations integrate nonpermanent workers into their employment mix can make the difference between their short- and long-term business successes.

Trend is Growing

Two common descriptors for non-permanent employment are “freelancing” and — more recently — “gig workers.” While these two terms may sound synonymous, there are relevant differences for employers and workers alike.

For organizations such as Upwork and the Freelancer’s Union, the comparison is important. In a recent report, the two organizations indicated that the majority of the U.S. workforce will freelance in some capacity by 2027, up from today’s one third of workers. The report also concluded that only 10 percent of freelancers surveyed consider themselves a part of the “gig economy,” citing that gig work implies less-skilled labor acquired through a platform such as Uber or Postmates.

Fair characterization or not? Looking more deeply into the gig economy, “gig workers” are spread across diverse occupation groups; however, there is one quality that links them all: those who pursue gigs as a self-employment option to earn money. What is a gig? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics describes a gig as, “a single project or task for which a worker is hired … to work on demand.”