Freelancing in the AV industry is continuing to grow as an integral part to the success of almost every AV company. In general, freelancing continues to be a growing trend in the US economy with 34% of US workers currently freelancing in some form and this number is expected to grow to 43% by 2020.
With those stats in mind, AV companies should stay aware of key trends that may affect AV freelancers. Below are the top 5 trends I anticipate for 2018:
#1.) The Debate About Freelancer Classification And Compliance Will Continue To Be An Issue
Many AV companies know Independent contractor compliance is an important topic and most companies have a general idea of what is required. However, many AV companies fail to consistently manage and execute a fully-compliant process that aligns with the various state & federal compliance laws.
This is highlighted in a recent ruling by the NLRB in a case dealing with the misclassification of live event production independent contractors. The details of how the company was working with the AV contractors and the control factors found are very common in the relationship between live event AV companies and independent contractors. It also shows that even when companies “think” they’re compliant, there are still blind spots in many of their operations.
Since audits for misclassification are random versus a monthly, quarterly, or annual occurrence, many compliance practices and self-audits are put off until a regulatory audit occurs. When this happens, it is too late to make corrections to existing practices, and penalties or other punitive actions can and do occur. With more states looking to better define freelancing and contracting, I expect more laws to go into effect with increasing differences in the way various states and the federal government interpret contractor classification.
#2.) More States Will Enact Laws For Independent Contractors
An excellent example of the final point from #1 above is The Freelance Isn’t Free Act (FIFA) of New York that went into effect in 2017. For those not familiar, the law is designed to standardize a process for contracting independent contractors with specific contract language and payment deadlines. While adherence to the state law does not affect any classification rulings, it does give AV companies and contractors clear guidelines on how to enter into an agreement on a project.
Other states like Nevada, are requiring mandatory OSHA 10 & 30 training for various positions supporting live events, effective January 1, 2018. Other states have reviewed these laws and have started the process to pass similar bills in their own state legislatures.
#3.) Freelancer Rates Will Go Up In 2018
The economy has been steadily improving over the past few years and 2018 looks to continue this trend. As the economy has improved, AV freelancers have experienced higher demand with more flexibility to select the best paying gigs. This has been particularly important as the uncertainty of healthcare continues and freelancers want to cover their own increasing healthcare costs.
As a result of this trend, there is a shortage of trusted and experienced freelancers, especially in high-end roles. I expect rates to increase an average of $50 per day (or $5 per hour), with some variation depending on the roles and locations. And given all of the recent press about companies increasing wages for their employees, you can bet that freelancers will want to see an increase in their pay as well.
#4.) Increased Focus On Training
Knowledge is power (and lucrative!) and no one knows this more than AV freelancers. There are two colliding trends that will drive the need for additional training: (1) More of the “older” AV techs are retiring, leaving a gap of knowledge at the lead positions; and (2) the improving economy is creating more projects overall that need qualified and knowledgeable folks.
There are several organizations making genuine efforts to fill the training gap. New membership plans by AVIXA make it more cost effective for AV freelancers to gain access to training and certification opportunities available. In the live event community specifically, sub-rental equipment companies like Evolve Media Group and Nationwide Video are offering training at their offices throughout the country. They are experiencing sold-out classes each month, in particular with AV freelancer demand to learn LED, Switching, Projection, and Media Server technology as video continues to be the hottest skill discipline to learn in the live event market.
#5.) Freelance Marketplaces Will Start To Gain Traction
The traditional method of booking AV freelancers through a labor broker is not dead and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. However, I do see a shift in the type of labor being sourced through brokers.
AV Companies will typically get low-level and assist-roles through brokers, but will prefer to book leads and high-end roles with freelancers they know from their network. More companies have been using AV freelance marketplaces to remove the middle layer and are also gaining access to a number of valuable scheduling tools that simplify the management of their existing network of freelancers or help to find new ones.
Additional benefits of the very best freelancer management systems is that they reduce their compliance and insurance risk and automate the payment process. Freelance marketplaces can be a win-win for both freelancers and the AV companies. I expect greater adoption by live-event AV companies in 2018.