Embracing the gig economy

By Ellie Ashford

With huge growth predicted for the gig economy, community colleges are developing programs to help students succeed in that sector.

Some studies predict half of U.S. workers could participate in the gig economy in the next decade, and that is creating opportunities for colleges to enhance their instruction to cover management, marketing, financing and other skills gig workers need – whether they want to be a freelance writer or set up their own housecleaning business.

“As the gig economy becomes more and more prevalent, it’s our responsibility to prepare people and give them the skills they need,” says Rebecca Corbin, president of the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship.

Growing a business

Training people for gig work is especially important, as the economy evolves and more people are laid off from traditional jobs and explore career changes, Corbin says. Taking on work on a piecemeal basis can be the first step in creating one’s own business and hiring other people. That’s what the “entrepreneurial mindset” is all about.

Learning how to navigate the gig economy “gives you a lot of freedom to create the life you want,” Corbin adds. Millennials traveling the world, for example, can support themselves by doing IT consulting remotely.

Gig work is also great for people like military spouses who move frequently, notes Charles Eason, business and entrepreneurship sector navigator for the California Community Colleges.

“A lot of people want the flexibility and freedom to choose their own hours,” he says. But to be successful, gig workers have to make sure they make enough money to cover healthcare and retirement, as well as handle all the other costs of having one’s own business.

Eason oversaw the Self-Employment Pathways in the Gig Economy Pilot Project created by the California community college system to help colleges incorporate the gig economy into their curricula. Participating colleges developed a general introductory course on entrepreneurship and a course on how to become a gig worker, using such platforms at Upwork or LinkedIn Gigs, and they matched students with a coach or mentor to help them launch or expand their own business.

While most people think gig jobs are all about driving for Uber or Lyft or making deliveries through DoorDash or similar platforms, “we were trying to focus more on freelancing that pays a living wage,” such as IT consulting or graphic design, Eason says.

“Overall, we learned the gig economy is just another pathway for students to look at for self-employment,” he says. While some students were interested in starting their own businesses, others used the pathway to gain experience and ultimately get a job.

Each college went about this work a little differently. Some of them embedded the gig economy into existing courses and others created new certificate programs. The California system gave participating colleges free access to the online courses developed by Samaschool, a nonprofit based in San Francisco that trains lower-income people for freelance work.

A college goes freelance

Eastern West Virginia Community & Technical College is focusing on the gig economy in a different way: It started hiring freelance staff a few years ago when state appropriations were shrinking, enrollment was declining and “we had a hard time recruiting employees with the right skills and expertise for a college that is isolated and rural,” says President Chuck Terrell.

That effort began with the chief technology officer, who is employed by West Virginia Data Network, works remotely and only needs to come to the campus a couple of times a year, Terrell says.

The college’s “entrepreneur in residence” is also a contracted position and is funded by a private foundation grant, as is the director of the New Biz Launchpad, a business incubator. In addition, the college turned to contracting to fill a part-time position funded by a U.S. Department of Labor grant to develop data processes using Blackboard, a part-time webmaster, public relations manager and human relations specialist.

The website manager lives in the community and is on call and is only paid for the work done. For the PR position, the college needed someone with a wide variety of skills, including social media, graphic design and press relations, so it contracted with 25th Hour Communications, a higher education communications and marketing company, to do the work.

“We gained greater expertise and saved money” with that arrangement, Terrell says.

There’s more to the story! Read the full article in CC Daily.

Ellie Ashford

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.