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Life hacks: craft a game plan to future-proof your career

You can set yourself up for your choice of working models, writes JOHAN VAN NIEKERK, CEO of Outsized for Africa

Graduates and young professionals today have the potential to enjoy more career flexibility and choice than ever before, thanks to a rising trend for remote and project-based work.

Global enterprises are seeking out skills from around the world for strategy, management, and implementation roles, meaning freelance professionals can gain experience across a range of exciting projects and work for companies around the world – without leaving home.

But to benefit from these exciting new options, they need a strategic game plan that prepares them for a new world of freelance work.

The world of work has changed dramatically: young professionals no longer expect a lifelong career with a single employer, and Generation Z is looking for more flexibility and choice in their professional careers. At the same time, major enterprises are increasingly looking to harness expertise as and when they need it – which means that there are more opportunities for professionals to choose what work they do, when they do it, and even where they do it.

Working as a freelancer offers professionals flexibility and choice at various stages in their lives: for example, they may enjoy permanent work initially and prefer more flexibility should they become parents. They may decide after years in permanent employment to become a digital nomad to travel and enjoy new life experiences, or they may decide at retirement age that they are not ready to stop working and still have a great deal to contribute – on their own terms.

Many freelance professionals choose this model because they want to benefit from a range of professional experiences, good work-life balance, and choice in working conditions and office hours.

In 2020 and 2021, demand for talent through the Outsized platform soared – more than doubling in 2021. Demand for freelance professional skills came primarily from Big Four consultants, the insurance sector and the financial sector more broadly. In addition, global interest in South African resources is increasing.

In-demand skills in 2022

Outsized’s Talent On-Demand Report 2022 for Asia and Africa indicates that the top 10 in-demand skills in Africa this year are in the areas of Actuarial, Data Analytics, Legal and Regulatory, Programme Evaluation, Business Intelligence, Quantitative Analysis, Murex, Market Research, Accounting and Business Analytics.

The research indicated key growth areas, with a 23% increase in demand for project-related skills, such as Project and Programme Managers, Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters, a 20% growth in demand for Strategy Consultants, 18% growth in demand for financial services-focused roles such as Quants, Actuaries and Financial Risk Specialists and a 17% increase in demand for tech and data-related roles such as Data Analysts and Data Architects.

Across the Outsized platform, the typical day rates independents charge vary from USD 200 to nearly USD 640 based on the number of years of experience, with the Middle East and Southeast Asia being the higher-cost geographies with strong competition for skilled independents. South Africans fare well, earning between USD 350 and USD 450 per day on average; meaning they are competitively positioned on the world stage for roles requiring their skills.

A game plan for freelance opportunities

Professionals typically have at least 7 to 10 years’ experience before becoming valuable as freelance resources and making the leap into the world of freelance work and consulting.

For all those now starting to study, it is still recommended that they study what they are passionate about first and foremost. Work will go global, and there’s a growing world of freelancing which has massive appeal for many people.

Young professionals need to start planning early if they want the option of flexible work later. Strategically building experience by taking on a range of projects and challenges, building varied experiences, networking widely and committing to lifelong learning will ensure that young professionals start on the right foot. Freelancers are entrepreneurs, so learning entrepreneurial skills such as time management, sales, and marketing are also beneficial. Partners like Outsized can also support with networking and business development.

When is the time right to make a move?

By spending a few years in permanent employment – learning and gaining as much experience and maturity as possible – before beginning your freelance journey is important. Formal employment also gives credibility and a key opportunity to save up some money, as the freedom and flexibility you get as a freelancer, can result in an erratic income.

The ability to absorb financial variability is therefore very important, and if you’re preparing to become a freelancer, you should have a financial cushion. If, for example, you could save 20% of your income, you’d have a year’s income saved after 5 years, which would make the transition easier. Longer-term contract can assist with initial financial stability when you first move into freelance work.

Freelancing is not everyone’s choice. However, it is a growing trend and an option. What you want in life is options, so set yourself up to be in the best position to grab those opportunities if and when they suit you.

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