The gig economy platform UpWork estimated recently that freelancers will overtake salaried employees in the American labor market within a few years. It underlines an incredible shift in how we work, and this has precipitated a growing interest in who gig economy workers are, how they work, and what they want from both work itself and society to support them.
We’ve seen studies looking at who engages in the gig economy, what they’re looking for, and what societal changes need to occur to ensure people are operating in a safe manner. JPMorgan even recently published a study exploring the income levels of gig workers.
A recent study of Italian freelancers attempts to add to this growing canon of work, which aimed to explore how freelancers regarded the success of their career. The research revolves around the dual career concepts of boundarylessness, and protean careers. Boundaryless careers are characterized by either mental or physical flexibility within our careers, whilst protean ideas reflect our personal values drive our notion of career success. They’re concepts that emerged in the ’90s in response to growing levels of outsourcing and thus job flexibility.
Hard to define
These definitions were largely formed at a time when workers still desired to be employed within an organization, and therefore didn’t accurately depict freelancers for whom this doesn’t apply. Freelancers can often have long-term relationships with an client, so can appear analogous to an employee in that sense, but they assume all the risks associated with business on their own, so are more akin to entrepreneurs in that sense.
It mandates considerable effort being put into building strong networks with current and prospective clients as well as other freelancers.
The researchers surveyed several hundred Italian freelancers, and the data revealed that a boundaryless mindset was very evident, with this helping to improve the employability of the freelancer. They would often have a strong attitude towards relationship building across organizations, and indeed took joy from this process. What’s more, those who took responsibility for this aspect of their work were ultimately more employable and more committed to freelancing than their peers, and this consequently resulted in them perceiving their career as more successful.
The researchers believe their work has a number of implications not only for freelancers themselves, but also organizations that hire them. For instance, they believe that client organizations should develop specific strategies and policies when working with freelancers. With many freelancers possessing talents that are strategically important to organizations, it’s vital that companies know the kind of things that freelancers value, and work towards providing those things.
The authors also believe that it’s vital for freelancers to engage in a continuous process of learning and development so that they stay on top of the trends required to be successful in their career. This training and development is traditionally something the freelancers have to engineer themselves, but there are signs of support appearing in the market.
For instance, gig economy platform Fiverr have recently launched a new product, called Learn from Fiverr, which will provide freelancers with a range of digital courses provided by experienced practitioners from the field. Each course is believed to be around $20, so is priced to be an affordable way for freelancers to keep their skills up to date.
“Being a community-based organization, we really focus on understanding what freelancers need to succeed, and continuous education opportunities are essential to long term success. As demand for their services evolve, their skills need to evolve to keep pace. As a marketplace with a deep understanding of what skills are in-demand, we have an opportunity to bring skill development almost directly to monetization to ensure continuous education is fruitful for freelancers,” Fiverr’s Global Head of Community, Brent Messenger, says.
Obviously this is an increasingly crowded field, with MOOC networks such as Coursera offering a wide range of courses from leading universities around the world, ostensibly for free but with credentially then available for a small fee. Fiverr believe their offering will stand out in this market by being specifically tailored to the freelance market. So there will be training available on how to create project briefs or delivering final products. The hope is that actionable and practical training will be valuable.
With more and more of us joining the ranks of the gig economy, it’s increasingly clear that a new range of learning opportunities have to emerge that are modular, flexible and affordable. Thankfully, the evidence suggests that such opportunities are entering the market.