Advancing your career in the gig economy

AZVIR RAMPURSAD - 30 October 2020

What if lifelong employment never existed? What if the only work available to everyone in every industry was short-term contract work? How would you have approached your career in that world? These are important questions to ask because this is the world we are moving towards.

If you are honest with yourself, part of the reason you got a professional qualification was for the certainty it offered. It was a doorway into a stable job market, good salary, and advancement opportunities every few years. It gave you a clearer roadmap through life.

You expected to find a position at a respectable company and to begin your climb up the organisational ladder. You expected to use your training and education in well-defined, pre-determined ways. You certainly did not expect to have to slog it out in a highly competitive, online, free market job economy only freelance writers, weekend dog walkers, and jazz musicians from the 1920s would understand. You never expected to be a “gigger”.

For better or worse, for dread or glee, if the experts are right, we will all be giggers soon.

According to the UCT GSB Careers Office Gig Work and Job Search Tool, it is expected that by 2023, 52% of the global workforce will either be gig economy workers or have worked independently at some point in their careers. The pandemic, and its resultant work-from-home experiment has shown companies that the technology exists to run organisations of remote employees on short-term contracts, and that this is more productive and costs less.

To advance your career in this new job market, you’ll need an adapted skill set and mindset.

Here are four tips.

1. Expand your horizons

The first thing you will need to do is accept that you are no longer an employee and that there are no more permanent positions at companies. You are now a business owner, and you are the business.

Adopt the entrepreneurial mindset and begin seeing yourself as an independent contractor selling incredibly valuable skills, knowledge, and experience. Recognize the fact that these attributes of yours can be exchanged for money. They are assets, and in a global gig economy they are gold.

Rid yourself of the idea that you are limited to the industry you were trained for. There are likely multiple industries looking for your skillset. You must rid yourself of the idea that you are limited, geographically. Begin looking for markets abroad like the US, China, and Europe.

Maintain a positive mental attitude, reach for any opportunity that presents itself, and understand that failure is part of growth. If the competition throws you off, let it be your fuel.

2. Repackage yourself

Start with an honest skills audit. What are your best assets? What are your most transferrable assets? Create a personal brand around those assets. Market your brand far and wide. Offer great value and package yourself as an impactful hire.

People often get caught up in thinking that they belong in one industry only. Once you’ve figured out which of your skills are most marketable, begin seeking opportunities not only in the industry you’re used to but in different industries too.

While the pandemic is reshaping entire sectors, there are some industries that will flourish in the “new normal,” that seem made for the fourth industrial revolution: from online education and online meeting platforms and cybersecurity. Find out if you have skills those industries might need. Do you have something to offer Silicon Valley? Can you make a positive impact in sustainable energy?

Be bold and daring. Take action and make it happen.

3. Always add skills

The UCT GSB has always promoted the idea of lifelong learning. It is one of the tenets for creating a generation of values-driven, impactful professionals.

If skills are what drives the gig economy, then adding new skills makes good business sense. Apart from acquiring new skills in your specialty and niche, it is vital to broaden your skillset to include general business, leadership, economics, design thinking, creativity, etc.

The gig economy is great for this. You can begin trying out small tasks using TaskRabbit and UpWork as an experiment. Use your new skills and test areas you’re unaccustomed to but interested in.

Along with experimentation, collaboration is a massive driver of learning and reputation building. Seek out opportunities to work with others from other disciplines and observe how different professionals solve problems, innovate, communicate, and think.

Pursue new qualifications. More and more universities are starting to offer distance learning. There is already a plethora of companies offering short courses in just about everything from knitting to advanced astrophysics.

4. Elevate your level of accountability

Accept the fact that you are in the driver’s seat, always. No one is going to be calling you to ask why you are not at work. People will always come along and help in different ways, but you are at the helm. You need to manage yourself and your projects. You need to hold yourself accountable for everything.

When you are feeling down and unproductive, you need to find ways to motivate yourself.

If you are spending 80% of your time on tasks that only produce 20% for your business, you need to find ways of flipping that, whether it means outsourcing or automating using software.

When tough decisions need to be made, put the time in to consider your options.

When something isn’t working, do a self-performance review to check if you’re slacking off.

When you’re done with one gig, you need to be the one to get yourself up and after the next one.

Azvir Rampursad is manager of corporate partnerships, talent strategy and leadership development at the UCT Graduate School of Business.

Career planning | Self-mastery

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