It’s tempting to think of the rise of the “gig economy” as a nice little bonus for people willing to put in the extra hours to get ahead. But, make no mistake -- the side-gig movement isn’t just an optional opportunity for those who want it. It’s actually a glimpse of the overall future of work.
That future is one in which people won’t just have one full-time job with a couple of side hustles. Instead, we’re going to see the rise of people working multiple jobs at the same time, up to the equivalent of full-time hours.
I know: That sounds outrageous. And, perhaps it is, right now. But we've been preparing for this inevitability for some time. Consider how high school students have been told for decades that they can’t expect simply one lifetime career. Even the advice that we should expect to have multiple careers in our lifetimes seems antiquated.
Why? Start with the fact that the working world is becoming overwhelmingly more entrepreneurial. The tools required to make a business are available to everyone for relatively little or no cost: website creation, advertising and marketing education, online programs that teach you how to code within a relatively short amount of time and platforms that help you run your business more smoothly.
Even platforms like Etsy are creating new entrepreneurs all the time, through side jobs and businesses.
These tools are all free, or nearly so, and they work -- you need only perform a cursory search of the internet to find a 12-year-old who’s creating working apps and programs.
Nor is this trend just about software. Digital tools enable people to connect their traditional skills to people who need them. That could encompass anything from the creative arts to the full gamut of manual labor jobs, including painting, construction and anything else.
That is a good thing. It means that everyday people are becoming highly skilled at creating properties that create value -- and are empowered by their own abilities.
At the same time, even within the context of a traditional career or workplace, employees are using tools and systems that encourage productivity and self-motivation. Communication platforms like Slack and the adoption of principles such as Agile methodology are training people to think and work like entrepreneurs in the context of creating and selling product. A 2015 HP survey even found that Agile is now “the new normal.”
We live in a world where small businesses are able to compete with multi-billion dollar behemoths. As companies become more nimble and adaptable, more productive and more technologically savvy, so too will their employees. They are entrepreneurs in training.
And they need to be. Automation means fewer employees are required in traditional roles. Even in Silicon Valley, experiments regarding the adoption of a universal basic income have been hotly debated -- and incubator Y Combinator has embarked on a controversial study of such a move. The citizens of Switzerland recently voted on a similar measure.
We’ve seen automation before. It has been happening for hundreds of years, and will continue to. But, in this context of multiple jobs, automation brings with it a wave of change that will see the structure of the full-time job fade away.
This isn’t just opinion – the numbers confirm it. According to the Department of Labor, the number of part-time workers rose from 13.5 percent of all employees in 1968 to 18.5 percent as of May 2016. More people are having to combine part-time jobs due to the lack of full-time work.
The reality is that the economic shift around changing work habits and structures will undoubtedly affect some in a negative way; and some are being left out by the significant change happening.
But this change also provides a great deal of opportunity. Instead of relying on low-skilled jobs to provide value for the economy, imagine, for instance, a future in which someone well equipped with digital tools could combine a variety of work activities. Driving for Uber or fulfilling some jobs on work-for-hire platforms is just a start.
People could also supplement this work with steady part-time work in a job that fulfils them -- whether that be photography, event planning, administrative work, personal training or whatever else they choose.
This has a huge benefit, also, for older workers who find it hard to shift toward our heavily digitized industry (especially those who may be laid off due to automation but haven’t had the opportunity to retrain themselves in digital skills).
Those with skills to offer, whether they be teaching, manual labor or anything else are now able to find buyers for those skills on work-for-hire platforms. They’re doing the same work they've always done. The only thing that’s changed is the delivery system.
This change won’t come easily. No change does. We need to make sure that as a society we’re teaching young people the skills they need to exist in this new society: skills that help us become self-starting, entrepreneurial and literate in digital technology.
For older workers, meanwhile, more effort should be put into training so they aren’t left in the lurch when automation transforms even more jobs along the way.
Businesses should also consider how they can train their employees for this future world. It’s in those businesses' best interests: Workers who are more entrepreneurial and able to see change coming will be able to deliver better results.
Certainly, this change will be difficult, but we shouldn’t be afraid of it entirely. Instead, we should embrace it, knowing that we have the tools, skills and knowledge to make a better future for everyone.