Odgers Berndtson: The Rise of Independent Professional Work

An in-depth research study from Odgers Connect, a division of the firm Odgers Berndtson, gathered views from over 250 C-suite executives for their survey. This report covers how organisations are transforming the way they work with external professionals, and the impact of that transformation on independent professionals.

The ‘gig economy’ is often associated with low-paid, insecure work and exploitation. However, a growing ‘professional gig economy’ of highly skilled professionals is flourishing in the background, and is already changing the shape of the professional services industry. The professional services sector in the UK alone is worth around £215bn a year, and a growing proportion of it is made up of independent professionals. Nowhere is the ‘professional gig economy’ having more of an impact than in the rapidly evolving management consulting industry.

Here are some key points from the report's executive summary:

  • In the UK it is estimated that of the £9.75bn of work delivered by consultants in 2016, almost one-fifth, valued at around £2bn, is attributable to independent consultants.
  • Both companies and independent consultants gain freedom and flexibility that they can’t get from bigger, traditional management consulting firms. 48% of the organisations say flexibility is an important reason for selecting an independent consultant over a conventional firm – making this factor far more important than price.
  • Companies say that independent consultants deliver higher-quality work than consultants at traditional firms in four of the consulting services we asked about, and are seen as on a par in a further two. They intend to increase the use of independent consultants in the future, as flexibility of their operating model is a top driver for change.
  • Most companies actually think the quality of work delivered by independent consultants is higher than that delivered by traditional firms. 27% of organisations expect to increase their use of independent consultants in this area.
  • Companies describe the technology work delivered by independent consultants positively compared with traditional firms. Almost a third expect their use of independent consultants to increase as they seek help with data analytics and digital technology.
  • Organisations say that independent consultants’ lack of global coverage can be a deterrent, but with the vast majority of consulting delivered domestically, this seems to be more of a psychological factor than an actual barrier.
  • Brexit is likely to prove an opportunity for independent consultants as organisations grapple with tight deadlines and rapid changes. Companies will need access to specific skills on a flexible basis, both of which independent consultants can provide at a more attractive price point than traditional firms.
  • Companies’ main concern centres on the lack of quality control when sourcing independent consultants. There are few well established and trusted platforms to assist and, in any case, in the professional services market organisations are looking for guarantees of quality and a robust assessment of capability.
  • Most organisations currently use personal connections and recommendations from trusted peers to find the right talent. With their use of independent consultants set to increase, and particularly so in areas like digital and data analytics, this will soon become unsustainable. There’s a clear need for third parties such as recruiters and agencies to provide the quality control that companies require.
  • Solve this issue, and the conditions – high demand, a skilled talent pool waiting in supply, and a trend towards more flexible and fluid operating models – are ripe for a boom in the use of independent consultants.

Read the Full Report

Thought leadership category