Carl Camden, the former longtime CEO of Kelly Services Inc., wants to make independent work — freelancing, gigs, self-employment — less like jumping off a ledge without a parachute.
Camden, who was with the Troy-based global staffing company for 22 years and then lost a bid to become Oakland University's president, is now focused on growing the U.S. affiliate of a British association for contractors and independent professionals.
He launched the Detroit-based not-for-profit affiliate in summer 2018 as an advocacy and lobbying group, teaming up with a separate, Northville-based for-profit company that offers benefits packages to independent workers who lack easy access to the safety net that employer-sponsored benefits provide.
The efforts are expanding through a partnership to be announced Monday with Moonlighting, an online platform for freelance and remote job connections.
iPSE-U.S. has garnered local traction, from bringing on former U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop as a co-president to keeping Camden's relationship with Kelly Services and drawing on the services of Peter Karmanos Jr.'s Birmingham-based Mad Dog Technology to build out a digital platform.
Camden, an advocate for freelancers' rights for years, said that while with Kelly he saw how workers without a traditional employer faced more risks in the U.S. than in other countries.
"As I was finishing up my time at Kelly, I had begun moving the company further into the talent supply chain, where we were supplying major global companies with all the non-employee talent they needed," Camden said. "We were working increasingly with not just temporaries, but a much larger (array of independent workers)."Income for freelancers is less predictable than for traditional workers, and they face barriers to health care and financial planning, according to iPSE-U.S. and Kelly Services.
A more-popular-than-expected Kelly Services policy conference in Washington, D.C., in 2016, while Camden was still there, helped set the wheels in motion for iPSE-U.S. But Kelly has aimed to support temporary and independent workers going back more than 50 years, according to John Healy, vice president and managing director in Kelly Services' Office of the Future of Work.
When Camden approached Kelly about its interest in iPSE-U.S.'s efforts after he stepped down in 2017, Kelly evaluated and decided to back it, Healy said.
"To have an organization like iPSE representing the voice of the (independent) worker, to us, offers a significant opportunity to ensure whatever policies are enacted are more representative of not only what governments and corporations need, but also what workers want and need in the marketplace," said Healy, who is also on iPSE-U.S.'s board of directors.
According to iPSE-U.S., Kelly is a top sponsor and granted the effort initial support of $1 million. Kelly declined to confirm the figure, but said its sponsorship came through both cash and in-kind services.
Bishop, also a former Michigan Senate majority leader and an attorney, signed on to the effort, too. His public-sector expertise is paired with a background that includes private practice work and entrepreneurship.
"I'm a gig worker," Bishop said. "It helps me be a better advocate for the cause, because I'm living the creed."
Ramping up since its launch, iPSE-U.S. lobbies for federal and state governments to protect the rights of independent workers — anyone from a self-employed contractor for an auto supplier to a freelance videographer or rideshare driver.
It seeks to reform labor policy to expand access to benefits structures, glean more government recognition and peel away what it calls unfair tax treatment. The association created a plan of action with Washington, D.C., lobbying firm Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas and established National Independent Worker Day on Aug. 16.
And for those who decide to work for themselves, iPSE-U.S. wants them to know: They're trying to build a safety net.
iPSE-U.S.'s "several hundred" members (Camden declined to specify) get benefits including Accidental Death & Dismemberment and accident insurance for their $99-per-year membership. They also get access to group-rated dental and vision plans, and individual health care exchange access.
Those benefits come from a separate company, iWorker Innovations, which contracts with iPSE-U.S. and is led by Hollie Heikkinen, a longtime entrepreneur and independent worker advocate. In the U.S., an association like iPSE can't directly collect money for benefits products, though the U.K. association can.
"I don't see us adopting a European-style benefits structure ... so I think it's a long-term solution to have these types of private benefits embedded in the work they do," Camden said. "Health care (is an important benefit) tied to employment ... I think in the longer run that health care is going to continue to be the tough nut that has to be cracked."
Two tech-centric partnerships are helping iPSE-U.S. form a support base. With Moonlighting — an online platform where one can find more than 725,000 freelancers — iPSE can promote its membership and handle advocacy for these workers, while the platform handles the job-opportunity side, Camden said.
Compuware Corp. co-founder Karmanos' Mad Dog is building a digital platform that gives an independent worker a one-stop-shop for benefits enrollment like a full-time employee would have.
A slice of the pie
Nontraditional income earners aren't a small slice of the workforce. More than 40 million adults in the U.S. work independently either on the side or full-time, the 2019 MBO Partners State of Independence report found. They generated $1.28 trillion in revenue in 2018 and have an average income of $68,300.
By 2024, more than half of the workforce will have done gig work at some point, MBO predicts.
Cities such as New York and Los Angeles may be seen as leading the movement, but Southeast Michigan has its share of independent workers — especially in automotive, engineering, IT and coding, Camden said.
"Michigan is one of the good states for independent work, there's not that many oppositional laws and a heavy base of high-compensation, high-level talent who are choosing to work that way," he said.
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