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Job security is passé. Your job could be downsized, offshored, outsourced or contracted out at any time. That's a discomforting thought. But there's good news: The gig economy is on the rise, and skilled workers—including HR professionals—are in the best position to embrace it, according to Diane Mulcahy, author of The Gig Economy: The Complete Guide to Getting Better Work, Taking More Time Off, and Financing the Life You Want (Amacom, 2016).
Employers—and workers—are increasingly moving away from the traditional work model. In fact, from 2005 to 2015, all of the net employment growth in the U.S. appears to have come from alternative work arrangements, not from full-time jobs. That's a trend that's expected to continue.
"With full-time jobs disappearing and full-time employees becoming the worker of last resort, more than one-third of Americans are now mixing together short-term jobs, contract work, consulting gigs and freelance assignments—and that number continues to grow," according to Mulcahy, a senior fellow at the Kansas City-based Kauffman Foundation, which supports educational and entrepreneurial opportunities, and an adjunct lecturer at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass. "There is no doubt that the gig economy is the working world of the future," she writes.
The victors in the new economy will be workers with in-demand skills. "Skilled workers are the winners who take all," Mulcahy says. "Their talents are in demand, so they can command high wages. They can take advantage of the chance to create a working life that incorporates flexibility, autonomy and meaning. In the gig economy, skilled workers have the chance to move from good jobs to great work."
So how can HR professionals take advantage of the gig economy? Here's some advice from Mulcahy:
Define your success. Discover your personal vision of success. It might look very different from the traditional American dream of a full-time, long-term, stable job.
Diversify. Diversification is the new normal of the gig economy. Having a broad portfolio of different gigs reduces your risks, opens up new opportunities, expands your networks and allows you to develop new skills. (Not all gigs need to pay. Some can be to explore your interests or make new contacts, for example.)
Create your own security (and an exit strategy). The gig economy is skills-based, so build specific, demonstrable skills. Take advantage of low-cost and convenient courses to improve your writing and social media skills, for example. At the same time, begin to create a strategy to exit your full-time job by examining your professional goals and getting a handle on your financial and personal needs.
Face fear by reducing risks. Start by imagining the worst-case scenario—you'll be broke (possibly) and homeless (not likely)—and develop an action plan for each risk. Can you mitigate it, insure it, shift it, eliminate it or accept it?
Manage your time. Be prepared to take more time off between gigs and make good use of it by traveling, volunteering or pursuing personal interests.
Be financially flexible. Your income will vary over your working life, especially if you're doing gig work. Create a financially flexible life of lower fixed costs, higher savings and much less debt. That's good advice in any economic environment.
Think access, not ownership. Opting to rent (not buy) and to access (not own) increases your control over how and what you consume, allows for more flexibility, and can save you money.
Today's kids will come of age in an era where most people have full-time jobs. But their kids are more likely to have a portfolio of work, rather than a job. That will be the new normal. Are you ready to get a head start?
John Scorza is associate editor of HR Magazine.
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