This article was originally published in Forbes on February 24, 2017.
In January I claimed that the gig economy isn’t just for ride-sharing services. Smart leaders are taking advantage of it to source top talent for their businesses, and motivated workers who feel left behind by globalization, outsourcing, off-shoring, and technology are turning to it for fresh opportunities.
From 2006-2016, the United States lost 2 million manufacturing jobs. If the recent election is any indication, many Americans feel their job opportunities have been materially diminished. For communities that lost a large employer, the obvious remaining jobs neither replace the income nor the security provided by the factory.
Technology and globalization were big contributors to the decline of the U.S. manufacturing sector, but they also helped create a new set of opportunities for workers unsatisfied with the jobs or education opportunities available in their communities.
According to Upwork, 55 million Americans are working as freelancers — that’s 35% of the nation’s workforce. If you aren’t happy with the traditional job or education opportunities in your community, consider what the gig economy has to offer. Here’s how:
1. Check Out Free And Low-Cost Ways to Build New Skills
Technology has created almost unlimited ways of learning new stuff. Consider massive open online courses (MOOCs). Available to anyone with an internet connection, MOOCs offer high-quality virtual courses from some of the world’s best universities — in many cases for free. Two great places to start are edX and Coursera. You’ll find courses in computer programming, engineering, graphic design, leadership and many other subjects. They even have integrated programs that build to certificates or degrees which can help you demonstrate your knowledge to others.
According to a study published in Harvard Business Review, MOOCs have a real impact on the people who take them: 72% reported career benefits and 61% reported educational benefits. Further, people with less education are more likely to report benefits. These courses offer real, practical ways for people to build the skills that are in demand today.
2. Investigate Your Gig Options
Consider Freelancer.com, the world’s largest freelancing and crowdsourcing marketplace (think eBay for work). Through Freelancer.com, employers hire people to do work in software development, writing, graphic design, data entry, and many other fields. Most jobs can be done from anywhere in the world (even your house).
Joe Griston, regional director for Freelancer.com, said there’s no “typical” freelancer on the site — people come from many parts of the world and many walks of life. From the young professional in New York City using the site to supplement her traditional job’s income to the worker in Vietnam who teaches himself software development and earns far more than he would in alternative local employment. These jobs are not low-quality work for low pay; 47% of projects on Freelancer.com are awarded to the median bidder or higher. Companies look beyond price and seek freelancers with strong profiles and a track record of successful projects.
If this sounds inspiring to you, spend an hour Freelancer.com or one of the other sites that bring together independent workers and the businesses that hire them (Work Market and Upwork come to mind). If you don’t feel qualified for the work that interests you, find a MOOC to help.
If working with a computer isn’t your thing, the gig economy may still be for you. TaskRabbit matches people who need household help with people who can do the job. As a “tasker” you could hang shelves, run errands, paint, spread mulch, or assemble furniture. If you like to work with your hands and that doesn’t spark your interest, consider what you might build and sell on Etsy. They have over 40 million people buying and selling on their site, and some of the sellers live off their income.
Choosing gig jobs over traditional employment is not without risks. Income and workload can both be unpredictable. Gig jobs don’t come with benefits like health insurance, disability or workers’ compensation. But organizations like the Freelancers Union can help you navigate your options for these and other benefits often provided by traditional employers.
Gig working has several upsides: control over day-to-day work schedule, the ability to lean in (or out) to accommodate life, and the chance to develop a niche expertise which might not have been possible in a traditional job. And for workers unhappy with job opportunities in their communities, the gig economy together with technology-enabled education offers a real way for them to reskill and change their lives.
One more reason the gig economy isn’t just for rides.