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Coronavirus and careers: Preparing pupils for the gig economy

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A new economy that requires aspirational young people to effectively become captains of their own cottage industries will require schools to think very differently. 

If pandemics are truly like wars, in speeding up pre-existing social trends, then we can expect the transition from open-plan office to remote working to continue apace. Although teleconferencing and hot-desking had hinted at a work-based evolution, it feels like we’ve suddenly been catapulted into 2030

The “fire and rehire” transition of salaried employees to outsourced contractors who work from home is another trend that is likely to accelerate as businesses cut costs to survive. 

Seen in those terms, the atomising effect of working from home is just the natural next step in the already well-advanced Uberisation of the workforce.

But it’s also clear that the pandemic will extend the reach of an irreversible gig economy into new sectors, where much of the work is highly skilled and well-paid. 

Schools will need to change their definition of work-readiness

Now that remote working is not only possible but highly desirable, schools will need to transform their definition of work-readiness, so as to avoid leaving their children at a competitive disadvantage in this most challenging of job markets. Schools that have been able to make distance learning work have already helped their pupils to develop highly marketable entry-level skills for the networked home offices of the new economy. 

And schools with sixth-forms will have an obvious ongoing advantage here. With physical classroom space at a premium, sixth-formers are likely to receive a blend of seminars and autonomous study, scaffolded around well-resourced activities on e-learning platforms. It’s hard to imagine better preparation for university study and professional life.

Recency bias (the tendency to give greater weight to recent events than to those in the past) makes self-employment appear a particularly scary prospect right now. But, lest we forget, self-employment before the pandemic had surged to 5 million, representing 15 per cent of the workforce. Young people, in particular, were drawn to the flexibility and freedom of being their own boss. 

The problem was that many young people only realised this after a demoralising first contact with the job market. Too many people leaving education acquire a lifestyle, then look for jobs to pay their way. By the time they realise that making a living and having a life are mutually exclusive goals, it’s too late. 

The entrepreneurial agility and financial pre-planning needed for successful self-employment need to be explicitly taught, so that those leaving full-time education can start up and grow businesses, before acquiring life’s overhead costs. 

A psychological adjustment

When the 2020s’ equivalent of the 1980s’ Enterprise Allowance Scheme is inevitably launched, we need to make sure that our students have been primed to seize the opportunity. 

In the past, it took old-school-tie connections to monetise a hobby into a career. But the internet has literally brought start-up entrepreneurship to the kitchen table. For the cost of a laptop, phone and wi-fi connection, we can help a million cottage industries bloom.

With 7 per cent of the gig economy self-identifying as “slashies” (people with portfolio careers) before the pandemic, we can expect to meet more and more people who are web designers/dog walkers/bar workers, as they attempt to use makeshift gigs to finance passion-project careers.

Schools will need to make a psychological adjustment to see that now “the job” is just a subset of “work”. Even before the pandemic, it was clear that the steady job for life – for so long the diesel engine of social mobility – was in trouble. Now, even with subsidised internship initiatives like Kickstart, it still looks like an endangered species. 

Back in the 1980s, when the steady job really was the only gig in town, a decade of youth unemployment psychologically scarred a generation. But this time, even as unemployment soars, our pupils need to understand how they can make the gig economy work for them. 

If we want our pupils to develop the resilience, versatility and agility they’re going to need, we’ll need to model those behaviours by baking entrepreneurial soft skills into the curriculum, and rebuilding the status of vocational qualifications as a matter of urgency.

Sean Smith is a retired vice-principal and a freelance education journalist 



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Collaboration in the Gig Economy

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September 18, 2020

Utmost Software Inc. was the judges’ pick among four workforce ecosystem technology startups presenting in a competition styled after the television show Shark Tank on Thursday. The event was part of the Collaboration in the Gig Economy virtual conference bringing together staffing firms, buyers and HR tech.

All four finalists were chosen from a number of firms to present before a panel of four judges, who picked their top startup.

Utmost provides software that enables enterprise firms to track their extended workforces, which include contingent workers, consultants, contractors and freelancers, among others. Unlike VMS providers, which are typically supplier-paid, the company has a set pricing model that is paid by enterprise firms themselves.

Utmost is also native to Workday and focuses exclusively on Workday customers. In addition, Workday is an investor in the company and Utmost co-founder and COO Dan Beck himself comes from Workday.

That relationship was one thing that caught judges’ attention.

“I like the business, it’s got a built-in customer base,” said Jai Shekhawat, one of the Shark judges. Shekhawat is also founder and former CEO of SAP Fieldglass. However, he did question why Utmost chose its pricing model when enterprise firms are more accustomed to the VMS supplier-paid model.

“I think he has a bright future ahead of him; not easy, but I wish him all the best,” Shekhawat said.

Timing, thoughtfulness and focus were also cited by the other three judges:

  • “Although there was something timely in everything we saw today, Utmost, in particular, I think is really timely to what enterprise customers, HR executives, hiring managers are trying to solve right now,” said Rebecca Henderson, CEO and executive board member at Randstad nv.
  • “All of the startups were really interesting,” said Pete Flint, managing partner of NFX, a venture capital firm. “Utmost stood out, just their thoughtfulness, their experience, their distribution; I think that really stood out. This is a terrific opportunity; it’s a burning need for many enterprises.”
  • “The criteria of innovation, market opportunity and the quality of the presentations made it really tough because some may be more innovative than others and some might have a bigger market opportunity,” said Gary Swart, partner at Polaris Partners, an investment firm. “I think Dan’s focus was a differentiator. The fact that there is not only an innovative solution but a focused go-to-market, not trying to boil the ocean and tackle too much.”

The other finalists presenting to the Shark Tank panel were:

  • Emma El-Karout, founder and CEO of One Circle, a digital community of on-demand HR freelancers.
  • Matthew Mottola, co-founder and CEO of Venture L. The company is described as a Shopify for running freelance businesses that enables freelancers to scale their operations.
  • Alexander Torrenegra, CEO of Torre, a professional network that is friendly for both knowledge workers and blue-collar workers that uses programmatic automatic matching for jobs.

The Collaboration in the Gig Economy Conference ends today.

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Despite economic slowdown, Pakistan’s gig economy continues to shine – Business Recorder

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Gig economy saves Australia’s jobs market, but at what cost?

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Don’t be surprised if employers use the recession to employ more casuals and outsource more work.

(Image: Adobe)

There were three messages in the confusing jobs data for August that emerged yesterday from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The headline number was dramatically better than any economist, or even the Reserve Bank or Treasury, had predicted.

The first is, despite the claims from the media and the Morrison government that the Andrews government’s lockdown was some profound act of economic vandalism, Victoria’s jobless rate only moved up to 7.1% from 6.8%, with 42,000 jobs lost in that state last month. Hours fell by 4.8% in Victoria, compared with a 1.8% rise across the rest of Australia.

Now there may well be another big fall in Victoria in the September data as the numbers catch up. There will be a clue in the ABS’s next payroll jobs and wages data next week.



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