Seven-in-10 consultants could go freelance by 2033

29 March 2023 4 min. read
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The shift to independent consulting looks set to gather pace over the coming decade, according to a new study, which has found that a majority of consultants plan to go freelance in the next 10 years. In response, firms are beefing up their training initiatives, and investing in attracting new talent to the sector.

Traditionally, joining a consultant firm has been seen as a great way to build a career for graduates, both as they look to accrue actual work-experience, and continue learning while on the job. However, a growing trend in the sector has seen increasing numbers of professionals decide that after a few years of honing specialist knowledge and building a reputation within a firm, they would be better off striking out alone.

According to Comatch, a professional services network which helps link clients with top independent consulting talent, there are a range of benefits felt by professionals who decide to go into business for themselves. Previous surveys of independents across Europe by the firm have found that professionals who exited the security of life at a firm did not miss it much – instead revelling in their freedom to self-manage their work-life balance, workload, projects and level of travel – not to mention improving their income.

The rise of remote projects will result in lesser learning on-the-job, triggering companies to develop more formalized ways to foster learning and development

As more senior consultants hear of the benefits their former colleagues enjoy as independents, this shift is gaining steam. Comatch’s most recent poll took input from almost 700 independent management consultants in the UK, Germany and France, and has found that 66% of consultants now believe they will choose to freelance, rather than take up a permanent position, within the next eight-to-10 years. A 53% majority expect this will have a high impact on Europe’s largest consulting markets – with the war for talent already seeing many long-term vacancies going unfilled across the industry.

Dustin Robinson, Marketing and Community Lead for the Netherlands at Malt – which acquired Comatch in 2022 – said, “Freelancing continues to grow as a career choice for the highly-skilled. For instance, Malt has experienced 39% year over year growth in freelance signups.”

In order to make up for this exodus of established professionals, many consulting firms are already turning their attentions to new pools of talent. A 68% majority of consulting firms are looking to invest in up-skilling young consultants more and more in the years to come, and particularly in lines of specialist work. This was highest in sustainability and digital consulting – with 73% and 72% of respondents in the respective sectors agreeing.  

Consulting firms will invest in and encourage young consultants to specialize earlier in their careers

This heightened emphasis on direct training for young consultants comes in response to a major new trend across the industry since the pandemic. Comatch’s research suggests that the rise of remote projects is resulting in a fall in the amount of ‘learning on the job’ firms can promise to their new hires – something which traditionally been a major way firms enabled graduates to continue learning while accruing work experience.

If consulting firms are to continue to attract young talent with their promises of heightened opportunities for learning and development, they will need to adapt their on-boarding programme accordingly. To that end, 84% of respondents agreed they would need to develop more formalised ways to foster learning and development in the next decade. Tellingly, Comatch found that HR and organisational experts were especially convinced of this trend, with 94% agreeing it would come to fruition in the next eight-to-10 years.

Reflecting on the findings, Will Jones, Managing Director, UK & North America at Comatch, added, “This reflects the ongoing transformation of the consulting landscape. We’re experiencing the rapid, and much needed, evolution of the workplace brought about by the pandemic years. Our task to 2030 will be to keep pace with the ongoing shifts in the market.”