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The Gig Economy and Career Pathways

Colleagues,

The “Gig Economy” is a buzzword to describe a trend where organizations contract with independent workers for short-term jobs, positions, or engagements.  It references a term that musicians (I am one) have long used to refer to performance engagements. Some believe that the trend toward a gig economy has begun. An Intuit study, for example, has found that 36% of American Workers are already in the gig economy, up from 17% 25 years ago, and it has predicted that by 2020, 43 percent of American workers will be independent contractors.

If this is correct, it has enormous implications for how we view career pathways. If nearly half of the workforce is not employed in full-time benefited jobs, should we consider them as part of a career pathways system? If so, how should we conceptualize their career paths? Is a gig economy an indication of a bleak future for workers (no steady work, low pay, no benefits, at the whim of unregulated employers) or as an opportunity for self employment that may, if organized effectively, lead to family-sustaining income?

In any case, those who believe that career pathways are important (and I am one) must not neglect the gig economy phenomenon. If adult learners are already part of it, and I believe many are, we need to understand it, how it works, how adult learners experience it,  and perhaps help adult learners to improve their ability to navigate it, whether they remain as part of a gig economy or join a career pathways economy leading to full-time jobs and careers.

What are your thoughts about this?

David J. Rosen

Moderator, Program Management CoP

djrosen123@gmail.com

 

Tags: gig economy

Comments

Michael Cruse's picture
One hundred

Hi, David -

You might be interested in checking out a conversation that Robert Wessel and I had recently on this same topic.  Access the thread here.  You can join in the discussion there as well.

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

michaelcruse74@gmail.com

 

David J. Rosen's picture
One hundred

Thanks Mike. You and Bob Wessel have made some useful observations about the gig economy in your earlier conversation.

Many of the part-time jobs in the gig economy do depend on digital literacy skills, and some may not, For example, many adult learners in the gig economy provide services, often gardening, cleaning, transportation, maintenance or repair services, sometimes "under the table". Although their services now often include social marketing, not always. Some do not use social marketing because they do not want to draw attention to themselves, and they market their services through face-to-face contacts and word of mouth. Interestingly some of these services may be the most resistant to another trend, robotization of jobs so, oddly, these service and maintenance jobs may have stability, although they often do not provide a good income.

In any case, teaching digital literacy skills such as social marketing, keeping track of information such as inventory, customers' contact information, using a log with the status of customer inquiries and their responses, etc.) may be useful to students currently in the gig economy.

I wonder if any teachers reading this have orally surveyed their students to learn how many currently work for themselves and what kind of work they do, if they consider themselves as primarily self employed (whether full-time or part-time), and if they are interested in improving computer or mobilie digital device skills that would help them with self employment. Perhaps the article cited in the earlier discussion with you and Bob, or the one I referenced, would be a good discussion starter for teachers who wished to do this.

Any takers? If so, let us know what happens.

David J. Rosen

djrosen123@gmail.com

rwessel51's picture
One hundred

Although services such as gardening, cleaning,  maintenance and repair, etc. may be more resistant to robotization than other forms of work that are more easily automated, robotization of these other jobs may flood their markets with competition from those who have lost their jobs to automation. This could result in less regular work and lower prices for the work they do have, making these fields indirectly subject to the effects of automation. And in many of these automation-resistant jobs, the risk of being seriously injured and unable to work is much greater than at a desk job. Learners need to be on a path that prepares them for the job markets that are emerging, not those that are fading.

“[D]igital literacy skills such as social marketing, keeping track of information such as inventory, customers' contact information, using a log with the status of customer inquiries and their responses, etc.)” used by learners currently in the gig economy can also be viewed as a kind of on-the-job training that provides them with skills needed in higher-paid, steadier jobs.

David J. Rosen's picture
One hundred

Good points, Bob. I especially like the idea of using existing work experience in the low-wage and/or part-time economy to build skills that might be useful in securing more stable jobs (if they will still exist) that have family-sustaining wages.

David J. Rosen

djrosen123@gmail.com
 

Cynthia Zafft's picture
One hundred

Dear Colleagues:

I was wondering how community members would describe their own work experience in terms of the gig economy.  At COABE, a few of us were talking about the "milk crate" organizational system where you have milk crates in the back seat of your car -- each one filled with the teaching resources needed for a particular classes/sites where you teach.  Are you feeling like you belong to the gig economy?

Cynthia Zafft

Michael Cruse's picture
One hundred

New America's (N.A.'s) Learning, Skills, and Economic Mobility in the Gig Economy project was announced recently.  The project is a partnership of the Center on Education and Skills at New America, and the Better Life Lab, that will dive into upskilling and reskilling "contingent workers" - also known as gig economy workers - to better prepare them for the changing nature of work.

According to New America, Labor trends show an increasing number of people engaging in gig and alternative work, education and training systems continue to operate under traditional assumptions about employment. Rather than benefiting from the traditional route of gaining knowledge and training through the workplace, alternative workers tend to switch from job to job, losing access to professional development and advancement opportunities. One in three gig workers hold jobs in health services or education. Health and education fields historically rely on educational attainment to hire workers and ensure quality, but independent workers must budget time and money for training largely on their own, which limits their ability to find more work. Since companies can’t legally train independent contractors, for fear of misclassification lawsuits, independent workers take on more risks related to skills attainment, training transferability from one job to the next, and accessing high-quality training.

This is an important for adult educators, and allies working to create sustainable career pathways for our learners.  As New America's announcement of their project comments, Gig work raises new questions about training future workers and ensuring equitable access to stable career pathways in an increasingly fragmented and unstable work environment. Workplaces change, demands shift, and technology disrupts tradition, but innovation doesn’t have to worsen workforce insecurity as long as the underlying systems meant to support workers adapt to modern workforce needs.

Follow the conversation from New America, and let's share ideas here for how the adult education field can work to guide innovation that supports workers, and learners.

Best,

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

michaelcruse74@gmail.com

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