Newsletter #485 – The Rise of Supertemps

Shortly after it appeared, ten years ago this month, I read Daniel Pink’s Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself. The book described a growing number of people including many professionals who are competent and highly trained but who pursue “project-based careers” on their own, independent of any company or full-time positions. Today about 16 million Americans fit this description and the numbers are quickly growing elsewhere, including Europe and China. Pink’s book showed me that I was (still am) one of these free agent workers some of whom an article in Harvard Business Review (May 2012) describes as supertemps.

Some supertemps are victims of an economy that took their jobs. Others became supertemps voluntarily. No longer limited to lower-level, unskilled workers, many are highly talented, well-trained, experienced individuals who value the autonomy and flexibility of temporary, project-based work. Their numbers include office-workers, accountants, adjunct professors, top managers, CEOs, interim pastors, corporation leaders, doctors and lawyers. These people value flexibility but want to stay active in their fields. Probably anybody can be a supertemp but the ones who do best are those whose professional and other skills are already at a high level. There are no worker benefits but the hassles and politics of traditional jobs are largely gone as well. These may be the best jobs around and companies increasingly are looking to hire short-term specialists.

Initially I decided not to write about supertemps. There is risk in this and not everyone has the personality to work independently and without job security. But this is a “new employment phenomenon,” says HBR, growing in popularity, increasingly accepted and likely to change how we work. Counselors and other leaders are joining the supertemp ranks. Maybe educators and coaches should be showing others how to be supertemps and private practitioners.

Prospective supertemps need to define their skills clearly and be able to articulate what they offer. They need skill in selling their services, the ability to build networks, and the determination and discipline to work independently.

Do you know any supertemps? Are you a supertemp yourself? As a Christian what do you think of this concept? Please comment.

8 Comments

  1. I became a supertemp because of my “autistic” personality. That is, nomal power holders cannot abide my deficits, even though my effectiveness is often lauded. (I give thanks to God for his leading, provision, some patienct friends, and gifts of the Spirit.)

    Years overseas with a missionary agency, later a devlopment company, as a graduate shcool instructor, and, more recently, church multiplication networks, I know how to make things happen, after serving organizations and projects in twenty-some countries.

    However, I am now “old”, out of date professionally, and income free. So I spend my days editing materials in three languages, and dispensing advice via electronic media and telecommunications, to dwindling numbers of young practicianers.

    Some advantages of being a supertemp, for me, include:
    a) See more of the world across many organizations
    b) Give input into many projects and efforts that seem to matter
    c) Experience more realities ‘on the ground’
    d) Breadth of understanding that surprises even me.

    Inconveniences of supertemp status have been:
    e) Lack of a unifying purpose over time
    f) No enduring relationships of mutual support
    g) No reliable source of income
    h) Serious doubts about personal worth

    Fortunately, I have been invited by a few other supertemps to participate in a voluntary network of overlapping interests that allows us to share insights and opportunities. Without those chaps, I would probably spiral into a lonely morass of complex, conflicting concepts.

    Reply

    1. Galen. Your response is excellent. I hope other people see it. I made a copy and printed what you wrote. Please don’t buy into the idea of being old and out of date. Remember that wisdom often comes with age and those of us who are older can still keep up as best we can. To be honest, I write this blog because it forces me to keep up with what is happening so I can share my discoveries every week. Obviously I really like your observations on supertemps.

      Reply

  2. Dear Gary,
    My only comment is that “supertemp” seems to be in my future, as the organization I am under does not approve of what the Lord has called me to do. In a way it is a bit scary, but this is way it was 50+ years ago when I was a young greenhorn and set out to serve the Lord. He took care of me then, and He is not about to abandon me now. PTL.
    Hope

    Reply

    1. Hang in there Hope. Going out on your own is never easy. Usually it takes a while to get up and running (same as private practice) but when we get there a lot of us have no desire to go back to being somebody’s employee. In the process see if you can move to something part time to give you money and a base before you take more giant steps out on your own.

      Reply

      1. A NOTE TO EVERYBODY FROM GARY.
        IF YOU HAVE MORE INTEREST IN SUPERTEMPS PLEASE SCROLL DOWN TO THE POST BELOW FROM GALEN CURRAH. This is from a supertemp who knows the benefits and downsides from first hand experience.

  3. HI Gary, I did not know I was a Supertemp, but I like it! I can practice my craft in various areas without additional organizational duties. My schedule is self imposed, leaving me free to travel when I so desire or work at my own projects and volunteer work. This fits perfectly with my own concept of semi-retirement.

    Reply

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