Gen Z and millennials seeking flexibility are changing corporate America, Upwork CEO says

Freelance contractor Upwork had its best growth year as a public company last year and CEO Hayden Brown sees no sign of momentum that started before the coronavirus pandemic slowing down when the economy reopens.

Younger workers, scarred by a job market battered by two recessions in just over a decade, are increasingly seeking more control and flexibility over their careers. The trends have only been heightened by the remote work world, giving companies an opportunity to adjust and tap into a global talent pool of independent professionals, she told CNBC Wednesday.

“The paradigm has totally shifted,” Brown, appearing on “Mad Money,” said, explaining that recessions in 2007 and 2020 dampened workers’ trust and loyalty. “We’ve seen that again for years. That’s not a new trend, but it has certainly accelerated today with more than half of Gen Z freelancing and 59 million Americans freelancing.”

Gen Z, short for Generation Z, is made up of young people currently in or entering adulthood who are now navigating their way through a pandemic-hobbled economy. The age group is also known as zoomers.

Millennials, the older counterpart, came of age during the Great Recession.

Upwork, a labor marketplace that went public in 2018, is helping businesses harness the gig economy for both short-term and long-term projects. The independent economy has disrupted various industries, giving rise to household names like Uber and DoorDash.

Brown said more than 70% of freelancers on the platform are college educated and many are earning high wages.

Unlike ride-hailing apps like Uber, which saw revenues tank 21% amid the pandemic after years of multi-digit growth, the small-cap Upwork saw business accelerate in 2020. Revenues of the Santa Clara, California-based company surged 24% last year to $373.63 million.

Shares are up 522% over the past 12 months and hit a 52-week high Wednesday before closing at $53.36.

“This is a long-term trend that has been happening in the workforce, and companies are waking up to the fact that if they want to be working with the best talent, they have to be tapping into the independent economy,” Brown said. “They cannot be limiting themselves to full-time employees.”

In 2021, Upwork expects business to grow at least 23%. The $6.5 billion company provided revenue guidance of $460 million to $470 million for the full-year.

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