Some how-to’s for finding a “gig” in the new economy
By Susie Goldman
The most common catch phrase I hear as a job hunter is “gig economy.” These two words are on everyone’s lips at job-hunter support groups and career workshops.
The term “gig” dates back to the 1920s when jazz musicians earned much of their income by playing one-time gigs at clubs. No job security, no benefits. Just a chance to play one’s music, and stuff some cash in one’s wallet at the end of the evening.
And so that’s a bit like how many workers now operate. Major changes in our economy in the last decade have made many workers start to feel like a jazz musician supporting herself by doing gigs. One day she may be providing, say, accounting services at Company A. The next, she is doing auditing work at Company B. Then the next she is driving people to the airport as an Uber driver. She gets some money — and then is done.
Many observers of workplace employment believe our economy — and a reordering of how businesses treat their workers — have diminished the number of permanent jobs with benefits. Certainly, my own experience and the experience of many people I know would suggest they are correct.
That said, advances of technology have created increased opportunities to find work within the context of the “gig economy.”
Insights into exactly how big the “gig economy” is are provided by the McKinsey Global Institute. McKinsey is a think tank that studies ways people earn income. In a report published October 2016, resulting from surveying 8,000 people in the U.S. and Europe, they found “up to 162 million people in Europe and the United States — or 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population — engage in some form of independent work.” They also believe the percentage of global independent contractors will grow exponentially in all age groups.
Of course many major publications also have been providing insightful information about the “gig economy” and how important it now is. For example, frequently in Forbes, Fast Company, and Inc. magazines there are major “gig economy” pieces — in print and on their websites. Book authors weigh in (see below for some examples), and even on YouTube you can find helpful information.
Working with websites and apps
If you are a worker in transition, it’s likely there are websites and apps that can help you at least to score a temporary job— a “gig” job. The websites and apps that are best for you depend on your skills and talents. Another factor in working with websites and apps: whether you want your “gig” to potentially turn into something more, like a traditional job.
Circumstances vary widely. Some people just need work— just need a substitute for a job they may have lost or left. Other workers who need more income take on several “gigs” if they can manage to fit them together. Others already have a steady job but need to take on a “side gig” to earn sufficient funds to get by in places like hyper-expensive Greater Boston.
All these variables can be addressed as individuals seeking work gain more experience at using websites and apps. Because each one is different — but with similarities — the best way to learn may be to study, and start working with, individual sites and apps.
Below, I provide tips — things I’ve learned during my own experience as a “gig” worker.
I also want to comment, based again on my own experience, that a period during which you are transitioning is a very practical time to sample “gig” work. First of all, you have more unstructured time. Second, because you have less income, you have more motivation, and reason, to drop in for a visit, or perhaps a long stay, doing “gig” work.
Meanwhile, even if you ultimately want to change careers, in order to get your feet wet – and likely to earn much needed income — you might want to start off by emphasizing the skills you used at your last job. And you’ll want to highlight other skills you feel you could use to help an employer even if the “gig” you find by using these isn’t your dream job.
Of course a key way to find a “gig” job is to think creatively.
So instead of offering a top-ten list, I break websites and gig apps into four main categories. Here I’m am in the debt of Olga Mizrahi. In her book “The Gig is Up” she breaks down “gigs” into four categories: digital freelancer services, caregiving, task labor, and education.
Types of “Gigs”
Digital freelancer services: Some “gig” sites and apps are geared mostly toward professional skills, like Upwork, Catalant, and Patina Nation, where one can find mid-range to high-paying opportunities in the technology field, finance, administration, and design to name a few.
Other, less-professionally oriented sites include Uber and Lyft. For Uber and Lyft, you provide a car and yourself, the driver, and the Uber app takes care of everything else. With Airbnb, you share your home. And hosts now are branching out from just offering an alternative to an expensive hotel or dingy motel by enticing their customers with activities. Hosts may guide hikes in the woods in locations near nature, or teach kite surfing at an ocean venue.
Caregiving: Caring-taking “gigs” like Care.com provide a marketplace for experienced childcare, adult and senior care, pet care, and housekeeping workers. Similar services are DogVacay, Sittercity, and UrbanSitter.
Task labor: TaskRabbit, Handybook, and Zaarly outsource labor-oriented work such as cleaning, moving, delivery, and handyman services. TaskRabbit goes the extra mile by working with the customers to make sure you are paid.
Education: Teachers use on-line learning sites like Udemy, Maven.co, and Verbling to teach courses.
Final Thoughts about the “Gig Economy”
There are those who love the “gig” life, the freedom and the work-life balance it may offer. But these giggers tend to work in higher-paying jobs. By contrast, for many job hunters in transition who need to accept whatever will provide income, the financial insecurity of relying on “gigs” for basic income, and trying to cover expenses such as healthcare, can be extremely stressful.
Early in December 2018 New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission fought for and won the provision to set a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers. This important protection did not previously exist. These two companies argued that they considered their workforce to be made up of independent contractors and therefore they did not have to comply with workplace laws.
As the “gig economy” expands, attention must be paid to workers’ rights. This is why, for example, those who freelance, like writers and actors, have the Writer’s Guild of America, the Screen Actors’ Guild, and the Freelancer’s Union. These organizations offer benefits and protect their members’ rights.
It is up to each of us to investigate “gig” opportunities to learn everything possible about specific “gig” platforms and make sure we are comfortable with the way they work.
Susie Goldman has been constantly reinventing herself through ongoing professional development, most recently in program development and management for elders. For over 15 years she used her robust customer service/administrative skills in healthcare. She also has been involved with social work, and has a long history as a volunteer, including in counseling young women regarding reproductive health and as a Check-in Program AIDS Action phone buddy. She aspires to do freelance writing as a side “gig.” Susie can be reached on LinkedIn.
Hyman, Louis (2018). Temp: How American Work, American Business and the American Dream Became Temporary. Viking, Penguin Random House, NY
Kessler, Sarah (2018). Gigged: The End of the Job and The Future of Work. St. Martin’s Press, NY.
McKinsey Global Institute Report October 2016: “Independent Work: Choice, necessity, and the gig economy.” McKinsey and Company.
McGovern, Marion (2017). Thriving in the Gig Economy: How to Capitalize and Compete in the New World of Work. The Career Press, Inc. Wayne, NJ.
Mizrahi, Olga (2018). The Gig is Up: Thrive in the Gig Economy, Where Old Jobs Are Obsolete and Freelancing is the Future. Greenleaf Book Group Press, Austin, Texas.