Preparing for the gig economy
Monday, October 09, 2017
It has been interesting to watch the job market change through the lens of many of my teacher friends who, for the duration of my 20 years in education, have taken part-time jobs to supplement their income.
Two decades ago, the popular jobs were camp counselors, after-school counselors, retail cashiers, and even ice-cream shop scoopers. Today, technology has drastically changed the jobs I see them doing. For many, short-term jobs and projects known as "gigs" have started to replace the traditional job.
There are websites like care.com that match them with short-term caregiver gigs. Tutoring websites like Varsity Tutor find tutoring gigs for them. For those who want something different and less dependent on a schedule, there are ride-sharing websites like Uber and Lyft that allow them to be a taxi driver when it is convenient.
All of these websites have this in common: They are harnessing the power of technology to efficiently match people who have a service to offer with those who want it, but they come at a price.
According to a Forbes article from 2016, the gig economy is growing at an alarming rate, suggesting that in 2016, 20 to 30 percent of the U.S. labor force was made up of contractors and self-employed workers. For these workers, self-employment means they must find their own benefits, and income is not as reliable as with a full-time job.
A recent Washington Post article suggests that currently, 85 percent of gig workers make less than $500 each month. Right now, this may be OK for many who do gigs, because they are using them for the exact reason that my teacher friends do — to supplement their income.
What scares me and many others is that as technology improves and people look for more efficient and cost-effective ways to obtain services, the gig will replace the full time job all together. What will that mean for the future of our economy? More importantly, what does it mean today for the children who need to be educated to live and work in that future reality?
In a recent article, KnowledgeWorks' Jason Swanson noted that the gig economy is already here and asked what it means for the future of education. Swanson wrote, “The internet is making it increasingly cost effective for firms to access people with specialized skills on the open market instead of employing people full-time.”
Swanson went on to explain how this impacts both employers and employees: "As jobs are broken down into projects, and project are broken down into tasks, such platforms are creating new avenues for people to earn or supplement a living by creating relatively easy ‘opt in’ employment structures where someone who needs a job signs up to work and can dip in and out of working as needed."
For someone looking to offer tutoring services, they no longer need to spend their time looking for clients. Taxi cab drivers waste no time sitting idle, waiting for an opportunity to drive someone to their destination. Technology makes it more efficient for the Uber driver to spend all of their working hours actively engaged in the transport of a client.
Scarier still, Uber is testing a fleet of automated cars in Pittsburgh that use a new technology known as Lidar, a form of radar. This means that one day, even the human driver could be removed from the Uber gig. What work will be left for humans?
What does this mean for educators? According to Swanson, "Education will have to prepare learners to thrive in an increasingly uncertain world, where jobs and professional pursuits are reconfigured even as they are being created."
KnowledgeWorks has recently published a guide to help educators prepare for this new reality. The June 2017 publication, entitled "The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness From the Inside Out," explores three core skills that will be critical for tomorrow’s worker. From their website, they are:
- Deep self-knowledge: Individuals will need to continue to discover their own personal and professional strengths, weaknesses, passions and emotional patterns.
- Emotional regulation: Workers will need to be able to recognize their own emotions; understand the triggers that create them; and move to more productive emotional states.
- Empathy and perspective taking: People will need to be able to recognize others’ emotions and perspectives to help build inclusive, collaborative work environments.
As a parent of five children under the age of 12, I’m still coming to grips with what will likely be reality for my children when they enter the world of work. It is unlikely that they will find full-time employment, if such employment even exists.
They will have to understand how to market themselves and their skills. They will have to know how to collaborate with others, either in person or virtually, on projects of any size or magnitude.
For them, there will likely be no such thing as the traditional "9-to-5" lifestyle. There will be no daily rush hour traffic commutes. They may not even know what it means to be loyal to one company or employer.
This is their future, and the time for them to start preparing for it is today. This is where their teachers come in and play a vital role to their future success.
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