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6 Workplace Trends to Watch for in 2017

freelancing will continue to be a growing trend in 2017

Experts predict the freelancing trend will continue to rise in 2017. — Istock

Fred Talmadge Jr. wasn't looking to be a trendsetter; he just needed work. When the now 51-year-old software engineer was laid off in 2008, he tried and failed to find another full-time job. He went back to school and then worked as a full-time temporary employee before checking out Upwork, a website that connects people with companies looking for contract help. It was a match made in online heaven.

For the past four years, the West Seattle man has used Upwork to line up back-to-back projects developing software applications for multiple clients — enough to keep busy 40 to 45 hours a week. "I'm grateful something like this has come along and people like me have another alternative rather than a traditional job," he says.

The rise of freelancing is one of several major trends employment experts predict will intensify in 2017. Whether you are looking to get ahead at work, considering a job or career change, or contemplating a postretirement second act, here are six of the top trends to watch for in the coming year:

1. Information technology, skilled trades and data science positions will continue to grow quickly. Information technology jobs have grown faster than other fields since 2012 and pay the most, averaging $40.82 an hour, according to jobs site CareerBuilder and labor market data provider Emsi. But you don't have to be in the information technology (IT) field to make good money. Opportunities for skilled tradespeople such as electricians, plumbers, and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) technicians have grown 8 percent since 2012, and the pay averages $21.38 an hour. Sales-related jobs grew 6 percent and pay an average of $19.06 an hour.

Other positions with growth include data scientist, office manager, intensive care unit (ICU) nurse, sales manager and electrician. Those positions are among well-paid jobs that have grown faster than the overall labor market in the last four years. That makes them among the hottest jobs for 2017.

2. Freelancers will see more opportunities. The ranks of freelancers, which include independent workers in many fields, swelled to 55 million in 2016, an increase of 3.8 percent over the past two years, according to Freelancers Union, a nonprofit organization that represents freelancers.

Not all freelancers use online platforms such as Upwork, Uber or TaskRabbit to find work, but the number who do is growing. In the past year, 8 percent of U.S. adults signed up with an online platform to find driving, delivery, data entry or other work, according to a recent report from Pew Research Center.

3. Networking will matter even more for job hunters. Employee referrals, job search engines and company career sites have caught up with job boards as employer's top picks for interviewing and hiring new workers. That means job hunters are better off working their online or real-life connections to find an in at a company they want to work for rather than scouring job board listings. When you apply or submit a résumé, include all the keywords that describe your skills and experiences, since companies that use applicant-tracking software match them against job descriptions.

As companies strive to be culturally more diverse and inclusive, some are adopting software that removes a candidate's name and other identifying details from applications that could bias a recruiter for or against the person. "Blind audition" software is still pretty new and used primarily to screen out gender and racial biases. But the day could come when employers use it to guard against age discrimination in hiring, too.

4. More human resources functions will move online. Employers are using low-cost cloud-based services, mobile apps and social media to give workers more power over things such as punching in for work, requesting time off and looking up benefits.

Karen Schultz, 55, has worked since 1990 for Dowco, a Manitowoc, Wis., company that makes power sports equipment covers. For years, Schultz checked into her shipping and receiving job on a manual time clock or tracked hours on a piece of paper. She tallied vacation time she'd accrued by writing it on a calendar if she remembered. During the company's open enrollment season, she filled out paper forms to request changes to her medical benefits.

All that went the way of the rotary phone two years ago when a new Dowco HR manager upgraded the company to cloud-based services for payroll, benefits, attendance and other HR functions. Today, Schultz clocks in using a touchscreen finger scan that's connected to attendance records, and logs on to the HR software's "employee portal" to see accumulated vacation time. "So far the changes have been good," she says. After a few tries, the process now comes easily to her. "They've been easy to navigate once you learn the pathway to go."

5. More employee workshops will be done online. You can thank YouTube for changes transforming employee training. The popularity of online video has led to companies switching how they offer training and career development, replacing in-person classes with on-demand curriculum that people can tune in when it suits their schedules, including on their phones.

Accenture is one company that has reconfigured learning and development to lean less on campus-based classes and more on on-demand, customized training on topics employees can choose based on their interests, not necessarily something their boss wants them to learn. In recent months, popular topics at the multinational management consulting firm have included cybersecurity and data visualization, according to Ellyn Shook, Accenture's chief leadership and human resources officer. "People wanted more control and access to keep up their skills," Shook says.

6. Workers will use more wearables at work. Not long ago, strapping on a pedometer during a lunchtime walk was the cutting edge of using wearable technology at work. As that technology has gotten better, wearables have moved beyond employee fitness programs and wellness. Organizations also are adopting them to track productivity and as emergency devices to help employees stay safe on the road. Workplace experts expect wearables eventually to show up in factories, where people who stand on the job can use them to consult instruction manuals. As more employers adopt them, total sales of wearable devices are forecast to grow 17.5 percent in 2017, according to Gartner, the technology industry analyst.

Some employees at San Diego tech company Qualcomm, which makes chips found in wearables, use wearables to prioritize email and send messages to coworkers. Pankaj Kedia, senior director of product management and wearables business lead at Qualcomm, says that while he's not writing lengthy documents on his wearable, he does find it useful for quick communication. "When I'm driving and I'm not firing up my laptop or phone, it's easier to talk to someone on my watch."

Michelle V. Rafter covers careers, workplace issues and workplace technology for national business and consumer publications. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleRafter and on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/michellerafter.

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