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Continued: 'Free agent' is new face of workforce

  • Article by: ADAM BELZ , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 4, 2013 - 9:35 AM

The firm’s analysis describes what some would view as a grim future for the individual worker. People will shoulder more responsibility for their retirement, career planning and health care. Personal finance will become more complex. Full-time, full-benefit jobs will be harder to find, and worker classification and work style will emerge as subjects of intense political debate.

“The 9-to-5 is gone,” said John Walker, 56, of Minneapolis. “For a lot of us that are looking for the American dream, it’s basically been gone.”

Walker sets up events at the Minneapolis Convention Center and thinks the ideal of a lifelong career has been crumbling since the 1990s. “It’s searching for a needle in a haystack,” he said.

Colleen Harriss, 27, lives in north Minneapolis and waits tables at Lucia’s Restaurant in Uptown. After graduating from college with a degree in art history, she tried to build a career in the art world but gave up after a couple of years of part-time work at a nonprofit gallery. She’s happy to work at Lucia’s — the money is adequate and she has three days a week to do as she pleases.

But a lot of her friends stringing together part-time work are unhappy. They want full-time jobs, they look for them, and they can’t find them.

“I don’t have one single friend that has a full-time job,” Harriss said. “They’ll end up having two or three part-time jobs and then also volunteering, and they’ll have essentially a 9-to-5 comprised of five different parts.”

McCarron, 57, who launched Gamle Ode in 2012, said sales are growing, but that’s expected in the second year of business, and sales haven’t grown fast enough to earn him a living. He’s still raiding his 401(k) to cover operating expenses. This year, he will produce 12,000 bottles of aromatic aquavits infused with herbs like dill, caraway, juniper, coriander and lemon and orange peels.

“It’s still not at a point when I can comfortably say that I’ve made it,” he said. “I’m still paying off the initial investments that I made.”

Reluctant to hire aggressively’

Private-sector employment is approaching its prerecession peak of 2.36 million jobs in Minnesota — it’s about 4,500 positions short. But those looking for a surge in good full-time jobs will have to wait. Companies, still stinging from the recession and the layoffs it forced, are reluctant to hire aggressively, said Mary Marso, president of Jeane Thorne Inc., a Minneapolis staffing firm.

“It’s not turning around as fast as we thought,” she said.

Temp work is becoming a gateway to permanent work, a way for companies to screen the workforce, Marso said. “You can’t just look on the Internet for full-time opportunities, because you’re going to get discouraged.”

Kristin Osborne was thrown into the do-it-yourself economy, not by choice, and she has thrived.

She was 23, working in public relations, when she accepted an offer with a new firm. The move angered her boss, and then the new job fell through, thanks to the old boss’s interference, Osborne said.

So she started a one-woman concern called Kensington Public Relations, focused on helping law firms. She consulted for one client, then two, then three. Eight years later, she works from home in Rochester for several Twin Cities firms.

“You have to be a salesman, you have to be a networker, you have to be an accountant and you have to handle every aspect of a business,” Osborne, 31, said. “You have to feel really comfortable riding the waves.”

A few years after she launched her business, her husband quit his job with his family’s business to turn a few acres of her father’s farmland into a vineyard, a big investment that needed to pay off.

“We planted the first grapes in May of 2010,” Osborne said. “There was a lot of risk with the winery.”

  • By the Numbers

    Part-time jobs for economic reasons: up by 3.9 million from July 2006 to July 2013

    Temporary and contract hiring has surged across the country and in Minnesota, where the number of jobs at staffing agencies has grown 14 times faster than employment overall.

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