Climbing to the top of the corporate ladder used to be the hallmark of a successful career. You’re familiar with the story — the one your dad tells without you asking. He signed a contract, nodded along to everything his boss said, waited years to be promoted, and then retired with a decent house and a gold watch, never mind a thank you note. It probably shaped how you thought your career trajectory should look like. But, over the past few years, that proverbial ladder has been standing on rocky ground.
Enter the gig economy.
The gig economy is a free market system of freelancers and independent contractors. They can usually be found in online platforms that dole out short-term tasks, which range from hourly to monthly timeframes. The setup is a far cry from the traditional employment model where employees are deemed as “shackled” to corporate norms. It’s because of this that professionals, especially creatives, have started leaving the 9-to-5 and 40-hours-a-week setup in favor of what seems to be a more balanced and flexible profession where they can manage their own income.
Several other factors have helped with the rise of the gig economy. One of these is the digital disruption in the workforce. What was once cordoned off within the IT domain has now become commonplace to the everyman, making it easier for freelancers to advertise their skills and attract clients. The client doesn’t even have to be a single entity or enterprise. Take YouTube vloggers, for instance, who showcase anything and everything they find interesting in their lives to target an audience. After this, they earn hundreds, even thousands of dollars, depending on the number of views their content gains.
The gig economy is also experiencing an unprecedented boost due to the pandemic. As millions are furloughed or laid off, the number of freelancers looking for hourly pay has grown. On the other end, companies looking to cut costs have also started depending on freelancers. Why hire an entire firm when you could cut the overhead costs and tap into an unlimited pool of skilled freelancers?
The surge in demand for freelancers has led to heightened competition in the market. This means that if you want to be selected by a client, you will have to be ahead of the curve. This may be unnerving to someone who’s looking to enter the freelance market. After all, by virtue of their job, freelancers do not have a company that can provide them with training or yearly summits. But the idea that freelancers lack the resources to upskill cannot be further from the truth.
Online learning platforms are now universal on the internet, and it’s never been easier to brush up on your existing skills or cultivate new ones. You might even have the option of accreditation. Online courses can offer most, if not all, of the benefits of further education while also having the advantages of convenience, flexibility, and a reduced cost. Some of the most popular online course providers today are Udemy, Coursera, and edX.
Due to the rapid pace by which tech is changing the market, online resources could be the better choice for upskilling as their contents are usually tailored to respond to current market trends.
One of the most well-sourced and in-demand skills at the moment is computer programming, and there are tons of resources that freelancers can use to enrich their skills. Go online and you’ll find thousands of programming-specific learning platforms in the form of free coding courses, webinars, podcasts, and more. Those who learn best with a guiding figure can sign up with online trade schools and coding bootcamps, some of which even provide one-on-one mentorship.
Bootcamps are also giving more value to communal learning where collaboration is preferred over studying in silos. In other words, they are similar to universities and colleges. The difference? Bootcamps are more time- and cost-effective. Whereas a college degree takes, on average, four years to obtain and tens of thousands of dollars, a bootcamp can be completed for a fraction of the cost and much quicker. According to Course Report, the average length of a coding bootcamp is 14.1 weeks (around 3.5 months) and the cost hovers around $13,000. If that price tag seems hefty to you, know that most bootcamps boast a range of financing options to suit almost every candidate. Depending on the bootcamp, you may have access to loans, scholarships, deferred payments, and even income sharing agreements.
At a time where success is no longer measured vertically but laterally, putting all your eggs in one basket no longer seems to be the right move. In keeping with the trend of disappointing our parents, it is perhaps better to do the opposite of what they did: Forget the ladder and diversify.
You can sell virtually any skill in the gig economy — the sky’s the limit. Some of the most in-demand freelance professionals these days include translators, teachers, editors, blog writers, programmers, graphic designers, and SEO experts. If you boast any of these skills, there is a place for you in the gig economy. As a freelancer, you will have the freedom to set your schedule, manage your clients, and decide who to work for; so, what are you waiting for?
Artur is the CTO of Career Karma, an online marketplace that matches career switchers with coding bootcamps. He is also the host of the Breaking Into Startups podcast, which features people with non-traditional backgrounds who broke into the tech industry.