June 8, 2021 A New Vision of Insurance and Benefits for the Freelance Workforce with Azariah Lehman
This week’s episode of Uprisor: The Future of Work Podcast features Azariah Lehman, Chief Administrative Officer at iWorker Innovations. iWorker specializes in providing benefit packages and services customized for the self-employed by partnering with the workforce firms and associations who represent them.
With the gig economy maturing and companies of all sizes using contract talent, iWorker is making it simpler for freelancers to reap the benefits of the lifestyle without putting their families or their finances at risk. Tune in to hear Azariah and Topcoder VP Clinton Bonner discuss the massive growth of the independent workforce, why freelancers deserve focus, and through that, different access to myriad benefits since their sector is booming.
the Freelance Workforce is Massive, Yet Underserved
Azariah and Clinton launch into their wide-ranging discussion with an introduction on how iWorker Innovations began and how it’s a sign of where the gig economy is today. “For me, [the existence of a company like iWorker Innovations] screams about the level of maturity about what’s happening overall, when you start to see these other ecosystems building on top of the gig economy,” notes Clinton.
The concept for the company began in 2016 when the founding team attended a small conference in Washington, DC, to discuss the challenges facing independent workers (the term they use to encapsulate gig workers, freelancers, contractors, solopreneurs, etc.). What should have been a meeting of approximately 50 business leaders and politicians ended up having three times the number of attendees, and that’s when they knew there was a problem to solve.
Azariah shares some interesting facts and stats:
- The number of independent workers is growing exponentially, but many are still burdened with the financial risks and stress of not having insurance and other benefits
- Approximately 58 million people (about 35% of the US workforce) are independent workers
- Those 58 million workers contribute roughly $1.4 to $1.7 trillion to America’s GDP
Providing Benefits to Independent Workers is Key to Retaining Talent
According to Azariah’s research, independent workers will make up 50% of the American workforce by 2027. She also says that 30% of Fortune 500 companies use independent workers, and roughly 70% of small businesses do the same. “Out of that, over 80% of them say they absolutely found independent contractors to be helpful and that they would definitely continue using that workforce to help meet their needs,” she adds. The independent workforce is swelling, and iWorker Innovations’ approach is twofold:
- Advocate for independent workers, and create and deliver the insurance and other benefits that they need.
- Customize benefit packages and services for specific industries, so that businesses can offer tailored benefits and services that help them attract the right talent.
It’s not about placing the benefits “burden” at the feet of companies who hire independent workers. Instead, iWorker Innovations is advocating for policies that make it simpler and more equitable for freelancers to get similar or same coverages that traditional laborers are afforded. Azariah talks about providing these opt-in services to the greater market and partnering with government and business to empower and educate freelancers—so they’re aware that these services exist and they know how to take advantage of them.
“There’s a misnomer about independent contractors. They’re not desperate, they’re not victims, right? And so these companies came to the realization that we have to do something to not only attract, but also to retain this top talent.” —Azariah Lehman
Educating the Independent Workforce is a Crucial First Step
As the gig economy matures, so too are its workers. While many think of independent workers in the gig economy as being young Millennials, the truth is that the freelance model is appealing to people of all demographics. The reality is that this model must think long-term in order to maintain momentum.
Azariah paints a poignant picture as she discusses the old, traditional mindset of getting a job and getting a pension, and how many younger adults and those in the freelance workforce have become disillusioned with that idea after seeing its failings play out in real time.
For the long-term health of the gig economy, workers and businesses alike must build retirement benefits into its approach. Other benefits that Azariah encourages businesses and workers to consider include:
- Parental leave
- Sick leave
- Education benefits
- Health insurance
As the conversation wraps up, the two spend some time discussing the PRO Act, a piece of legislation that would attempt to classify independent contractors using the ABC test, which says, in part, that you’re not an independent contractor if you’re doing the same primary line of business or work that the company does. Labeling freelancers this way can harm both the businesses that want to use the talent AND the freelancers themselves, by stripping away an individual’s ability to identify and work as a freelancer.
Thank you, Azariah, for sharing the inspiration behind iWorker Innovations and the important advocacy, policy and benefits work that you do. For additional insight on the intersection of innovation, business and technology, check out the rest of the episodes of the Uprisor Podcast.
“In the independent workforce there can be a lack of education about the benefits and resources that people need, or that are available to them. Educating individuals about these products and services is critical.” —Azariah Lehman