Careers in the 21st Century: the Gig Economy and Portfolio Careers

While baby boomers may have secured a job with stability, potential for growth, and a pension through a static set of skills, the job market has changed. Today’s employers favor a dynamic, adaptable skill set.

The length of time someone can expect to spend with a given employer is getting shorter and shorter. Today, a U.S. employee will spend an average of 4.2 years with a single employer, and that number continues to dwindle.

Not only are workers spending less time with “traditional” employers, who offer work on a regular, continuing basis, but more people are also taking on multiple part-time jobs, short-term contractual positions, and self-employment, all three of which are components of a gig-based economy and a “portfolio career.”

There are subtle differences between a portfolio career and the gig economy. In the gig economy, individuals work usually, but not always, short-term jobs, collecting a separate salary from each such “gig.” A portfolio career is part of the gig economy. Individuals working different jobs to make up one career have a portfolio career.

Approximately 30-40 per cent of the United States workforce and 20-30 per cent of the Canadian workforce is now comprised of such “non-traditional workers.” According to staffing company Randstad Canada, writes Liza Nazareth of The Globe and Mail,  these numbers are set to increase as many workplaces set sights on becoming more “agile.”

The gig economy may appeal to those who value flexibility. If you enjoy variety, making your own schedule, and are interested in developing a sense of “solopreneurialism,” then you may find working in the gig economy rewarding.

The gig economy presents a different work model from what the average person will have encountered, and this break from traditional employment may liberate those who feel discouraged or otherwise dissatisfied by traditional employment.

While the gig economy may grant workers a greater sense of control over their careers, allowing them to work for themselves, set their own schedules, and so on, there are negative aspects to this shift in the job market.

Since employers now offering more part-time and contractual positions means, there is an abundance of such positions to choose from. Those who desire a stable, well-paying, and full-time position, however, may have a difficult time securing one.

The potential lack of financial stability is especially concerning when you consider the drastic increase in student debt. Collective student debt in the U.S. surpassed $1.5 trillion in 2018.

So, what can you do to thrive in the gig economy? HBR interviewed individuals doing just that. Read HBR’s in-depth explanation by checking out this article.


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