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We are moving toward a largely freelance economy. About a third of American workers are members of the so-called independent workforce, which includes freelance writers, editors, and designers, office temps, independent contractors, and day laborers, and by 2020, that number could grow to more than 40 percent of American workers. That would amount to 60 million people.

Among the fastest growing segment are online jobs, which is not surprising, and a big driver of that is the 3D printing industry, which perhaps is. According to data compiled by Freelancer.com, which sifted through 300,000 jobs posted on its site in the second quarter of 2013, 3D rendering, 3D modeling and 3D animation showed “significant growth.” Freelancer.com CEO Matt Barrie calls 2013 “a year of unprecedented disruption, with tectonic shifts in the design and manufacturing industries as they struggle to adapt to the unstoppable rise of crowdsourcing and 3D printing.”

Much of this springs from small-to medium sized businesses tapping the increasingly agile workforce for external support. In other words, why hire permanent staff when you can outsource projects to freelancers, and avoid offering health insurance, 401Ks, and other administrative responsibilities that companies take on. It’s like the human version of just-in-time supply chain management (sometimes referred to as “lean production”), which seeks to lower the cost of production by having parts and equipment delivered only when needed for a specific production run rather than store all those materials on a factory’s premises.

Nikki Parker, Regional Director for North America and Oceania for Freelancer.com, which is based in Australia, provided me with some broad statistics on the American labor market. Company data, culled from thousands of jobs posted daily on Freelancer.com, provides a snapshot of the online jobs market:

The top three jobs posted by US-based employers:

  • Website development
  • Software architecture
  • Graphic design

The top three jobs awarded to freelancers:

  • Website development
  • Copy writing and article writing
  • Website management

The top skills held by freelancers in the United States:

  • Website development
  • Graphic design
  • Website design
  • Data entry
  • Copy writing
  • Research
  • Article writing
  • Engineering

The top three countries American employers award projects to:

  • India
  • USA
  • Pakistan

The top three countries awarding American freelancers jobs:

  • USA
  • United Kingdom
  • Australia

Other trends courtesy of Freelancer.com data are related to Android app development, with the number of jobs in that growing faster than with Apple, Facebook job postings outstripping those of Twitter, and telemarketing and email marketing crushing SEO and link building.

Meanwhile, globally speaking, jobs related to 3D printing, estimated to become a $3 billion industry by 2016, have also been climbing. Skills especially in demand are 3D rendering (jobs up 17.3 percent), 3D modeling (12.5 percent) and 3D animation (11.7 percent).

“With disruption comes opportunity,” CEO Barrie said in a press statement, “and over the next couple of months there is a unique window for any entrepreneur with an innovative business model to build a billion-dollar company.”

True, but disruption cuts both ways. Makerbot, which was acquired by 3D printing goliath Stratasys, just unveiled a digitizer desktop scanner that retails for $1,400. It can take a real-life object, scan it using a camera and two lasers, and out spits a 3D digital file without any need for design or 3D software experience.

“Just connect the MakerBot Digitizer to a laptop or computer and you are ready to digitize,” the company says.

If you are a freelance graphic artists don’t start taking night courses in 3D graphics and rendering just yet. Your skills might be obsolete before you finish your first class.

Image via Wikimedia