The UK’s freelance economy is booming, with the number of businesses hiring freelancers online increasing 51% and payments to freelancers up 47% year on year1, according to latest Global Online Employment Report (GOER) from Elance. The quarterly GOER tracks the hiring patterns of employers and the earnings of freelancers using Elance – the leading online work platform. In Q2 of 2013 the report tracked more than 13,500 hires made through Elance in the UK.

It shows that IT & Programming (at 35% of all hires); Design & Multimedia (25%) and Writing & Translation (23%) still account for the lion’s share of freelance jobs awarded online, but demand from employers has increased across all categories. The job categories experiencing the biggest surges in demand are Sales and Marketing (up 87%), Administrative Support (85%) and Engineering and Manufacturing (173%).

The report also provides strong evidence that employers are adopting online freelancers as an integral part of their workforces, with a 101% increase in spend on hourly jobs. Hourly jobs tend to be used for long term working relationships, rather than short term projects. This is supported by data that shows globally 50% of businesses using Elance are hiring for longer than six months and more than a quarter of businesses have worked with the same freelancer for a year or more.

Kjetil Olsen, Vice President, Europe – Elance, Inc. said: “As the wider UK economy recovers, we’re seeing a parallel boom in demand for freelancers. There are more employers, hiring more freelancers across a wider range of jobs. For some, this is about managing short-term demand for talent and de-risking growth, but it’s also evident that for tens of thousands of UK businesses, retaining freelancers as an integral part of their talent mix is becoming an essential strategy.”

Jobs and skills in demand

STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) skills remain in high demand in the UK, as they are globally, with freelancers qualified in coding languages PHP and HTML, as well as graphic designers and CSS specialists being most in demand.

Globally, sought after STEM skills include:

  • Data Scientists & Statisticians – Demand for data scientists and statisticians is up 200%
  • Mobile and Software Application Developers – The demand for mobile app developers increased a healthy 100% with continued growth in demand for iOS, Android and HTML5 skills. Demand for software application and web developers was up 44%
  • Networking & Security Professionals – The demand for networking and security experts saw remarkable growth on Elance with an over 150% increase in posted jobs.

Demand for specialised talent leads to pay increases

Cost savings are no longer a primary driver for hiring freelancers online and freelancers are enjoying higher earnings. In the UK, freelancer earnings are up 37% over the prior year and average hourly freelance wages are 19% higher than the national average.

The report also shows that the biggest jumps in earnings were seen across the Administrative Support (up 97%); Design & Multimedia (75%); and Engineering & Manufacturing (108%) sectors.

UK-based freelancers attractive in global marketplace

Employers showed a strong preference for hiring locally, with freelancers based in the UK the fourth largest recipients of jobs globally, only surpassed by the US, India and Pakistan. And UK-based freelancers were awarded 64% more jobs in Q2 2013 compared to Q2 2012.

Olsen concludes: “It’s clear that online freelancing is having a very real and positive impact on UK-based workers, but that employers are still forced to look overseas for some skills that are in short supply locally. For employers, the ability to tap into a global talent pool is critical if they are to remain competitive. However, this underlines the need for the UK workforce to acquire the skills that today’s fast growing companies demand.”