Gig Economy Jobs: Be Sure They’re Right for Your Students

gig economy jobs
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gig economy jobs

When companies like Uber and Postmates started, they expanded the number of gig economy jobs available. In fact, a 2018 report from Upwork revealed, in the past five years, the number of American freelancers increased from 3.7 to 56.7 million. While many anticipated the increased amount of gig and freelancing jobs would change how we thought about career paths, few realized how popular the option would be among young people.

The Upwork report found 45 percent of college-aged young adults (18 to 21-year-olds) are already freelancers. Remarkably, 42 percent of survey respondents between the ages of 22 and 34 continue in the gig economy.

To offer students the best advice to help them navigate this new approach to their career, you need to understand the difference between a traditional career path and one in the gig economy. Here are four steps to take so you can prepare your students for a gig economy jobs:

Create a long-term plan

Taking freelance jobs may seem convenient and “freeing” when your students are young. But they’ll receive little to no guidance to advance their career over time. There’s no established path for promotions or taking on new responsibilities. Every move they make has to be self-directed.

When students enter the gig economy with a plan, they can be proactive about their career progression. Start by identifying their goals after six months, a year, three years, etc. Ask them about a variety of priorities like:

  • How much money do they want to make?
  • How many hours do they want to work?
  • How do they want the types of jobs they take to evolve?
  • Are there certain types of projects they don’t want to take?
  • Do they eventually want to work in a more traditional setting?
  • How do they want to find gig economy jobs?

Once you have these answers, work with your students to find a way to reach their goals. While it’s essential to be specific (e.g., the student will take a project that requires a new skill once every six months) the plan also needs to be flexible (e.g., the student might have to take more jobs to meet their financial goals). To help students understand the plan, pose unexpected challenges and ask what they’d do to make sure they stay on track with their big-picture goals.

Show them what their skills are worth

No matter what career a student chooses, it’s important to know the industry salary standards. However, with the gig economy, there are a variety of ways freelancers are paid, and it’s not always clear if they’re getting what their skills are worth. For instance, $500 for a project might seem fair, but if it takes 40 hours a week for an entire month to complete, your student probably won’t make rent that month.

Make sure students understand the different pay structures and help them figure out a fair hourly rate. Then give them hypothetical projects or gigs and see if they can accurately predict how much time it will take to complete. Make sure they consider the amount of work, its difficulty, and whether they’d need to purchase additional tools or supplies. This will help them determine how much they need to ask for.

Also, let them know they do have the right to negotiate what they’re paid in many cases. Some gig economy jobs have set salaries, but if your student wants to work outside companies like Uber, they can ask for more. Help them learn how they can communicate why a higher rate would be fair without the client thinking they’re greedy.

Look for opportunities that expand their skill set

With a traditional job, there are training programs in place to help employees learn new skills and move forward in their careers. Gig workers, however, need to be proactive about learning so their skills don’t stagnate. College students need to learn what career development opportunities are available to them.

Introduce them to Massive Open Online Courses on sites like or so they can begin to think about what their learning path will be. See what courses can help them develop the skills they can use in the future to take on more challenging gigs. Then discuss how they’ll know they’ve mastered the skill and can start advertising it to potential clients.

Explain the possible drawbacks

Yes, gig economy jobs offer a lot of freedom, but there are cons students need to weigh now. Without all the information, they can’t make the right decision for them. One of the most significant drawbacks is a lack of income stability; some months there won’t be as many opportunities. If a student needs a sense of financial security for their peace of mind, freelancing and gig work might not be the best option.

Some other potential downsides to gig jobs are:

  • Out-of-pocket healthcare costs: Students have to find and pay for their own insurance, which can be a lot more expensive when the plan is part of an employer group.
  • Tracking and paying taxes: With most jobs, income taxes are automatically deducted with each paycheck. Freelancers need to track and plan their payments or they will get stuck owing more than they expected come tax day.
  • Work/life balance challenges: While gig economy jobs do allow students to work whenever they want, there’s also no boundaries to establish balance. It’s not uncommon for freelancers to end up working insane hours each day because there’s no 9-5 structure.

For many students, the gig economy seems like the best career path. But you can’t let them enter that workforce without guidance. By understanding how they need to prepare, you can set them up for success.

Want more tips to pass on to your college students? Check out our blog piece about changes to the interview process!

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Val Matta
Val Matta
Val Matta, Managing Director of CareerShift, co-founded the company in 2005 to help individuals bridge the gap between education and employment.  As a recognized expert in the field, Val is a frequent speaker on career management, networking, and job hunting strategies.  You can connect with her and the CareerShift team on FacebookLinkedIn, and Twitter.