Gig economy seems to be future of work in this country

“By 2030, 40-60 percent of jobs could be displaced by automation,” stated Harry Elam, senior vice provost for education at Stanford University.

Robots are replacing humans in repetitive tasks. Just last year China purchased 90,000 robots to replace manpower on its production lines. The 350,000 jobs created since 2007 by e-commerce giants such as Amazon are in danger of disappearing as fast as they were created.

So what does that mean for the future of work?

A new economy is beginning to emerge, the “gig economy.” It is defined as a labor market in which workers have a series of short term contracts or freelance jobs as opposed to traditional full time jobs.

“Estimates are that by 2020, 40 percent of the workforce will be independent contractors,” said Elam.

A recent survey by Intuit found 34 percent of all tax filers last year were freelancers, indicating they worked for themselves or services like LYFT or UBER, evidence of the emergence of the gig economy. This contract work allows the younger generation to 1) control what projects they work on, 2) regulate who they work with, and 3) provides them a flexible work schedule. Seventy-nine percent of this group stated they were happier working this way.

The average time young graduates spend at a job is down to 4.2 years. To continue to find new work they will have to keep their skills updated, like those contractors of the gig economy who have made themselves content specialists.

The educational model that allowed careers to survive only on the knowledge you gained in earning your bachelor’s degree is transitioning to one requiring individuals to be lifelong learners.

Farouk Day, associate vice provost and dean of career education at Stanford University, outlined Stanford’s 2025 vision for the future of higher education. Described as the “open-loop education model,” students would take a few courses to gain skills needed to fill a job in a chosen career, then go to work applying these skills, returning to school to learn added skills needed to thrive in a continuous cycle until retirement.

Anant Agarwai, CEO of edX and professor at MIT, suggested an alternative model where individuals would subscribe to college like a magazine, allowing students to upscale their skill set by taking courses when they needed throughout their lifetime.

With half our workforce predicted to lose their jobs in the next 13 years, this skill update will be needed for workers to fill jobs created by development of new technologies and industries.

Anant explained another model where students could bundle online courses from different universities, creating designer degrees of unique skills sets. In working with schools such as Rochester Institute of Technology, MIT and others in creating micro-Masters in fields like data analytics and cyber security, edX is offering more options to upscale their skills.

Companies have recognized this obligation to support employees updating unique talents, many offering tuition reimbursement for courses or teaming with edX to create their own.

AT&T, which is moving from a land-line to wireless service, has posted new job descriptions noting specific skills sets required. AT&T will pay for current employees to gain these skills so they can apply for these new jobs.

Employers are looking for critical thinkers and problem solvers who are adaptable. Employees will be required to constantly update their knowledge to contribute to our new, quickly advancing economy.

Welcome to the new gig economy!

Steve Patchin is director of Career Services for Michigan Technological University.