We live in a rewarding, but exceptionally rough, unpredictable and fluctuating career climate. As more and more citizens begin to earn advanced degrees, the job market is struggling to keep up. Recruitment for all companies in 2018 is predicted to be significantly more challenging as the large pool of qualified workers leads to an increasingly ambitious and cut-throat competitive job market. What’s more, an advanced degree is no longer an automatic ticket to financial and career success.
“Universities are producing a glut of Ph.D.s, but the job market isn’t keeping up,” Johannah Mayer of Science Friday said. “Between 1957 and 2016, the number of Ph.D.s awarded in science and engineering grew by 500 percent. But those newly minted doctors faced one of the worst job markets of the past 15 years.”
As a result, students fresh out of college and medical school are struggling with thousands of dollars in student debt — and medical students face an average of $190,000 in debt nationally. Though student debt is nothing new to our country, you can imagine these numbers to skyrocket as more students begin to invest in higher education. How will the future labor force adapt to the cumulative waves of up-and-coming, highly-qualified millennials?
New NPR/Marist poll found that one-fifth of jobs in the U.S. are contract jobs — and within a decade, freelancers and contractors are expected to make up half of the American workforce. The appeal of the traditional nine-to-five job is regressing as people begin to transition to freelancing. The recent surge of freelancers may signify big changes for what we would have normally coined as the term “work.”
The term freelance itself is revolutionizing.
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“I didn’t stop and realize that you could be super highly educated and still be in the big economy,” Kate Lyden, a freelance scientist said. “That was kind of a revelation to me.”
Contract laboring recently made some big appearances and impressive revenues in the industry. Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Etsy and GrubHub are a few influential online work platforms to name from the past decade that completely reimagined the traditional client and worker relationship.
But workers that shift from the traditional, steady office job to an impermanent under-the-contract job face many new personal and professional challenges and obstacles.
Matt Nelson is a volunteer leader and freelance Web Developer at the Madison chapter of Spark, a networking group started by the Freelancers Union. He told NPR he learned to love his job, and throughout his career, he met people from all walks of life. The networking group supports all kinds of freelancers — from astrobiologists to bug farming consultants. But a major obstacle that contract laborers such as himself face is a lack of social support. Nelson finds it terrifying to freelance without a social safety net to lean back on. Without social insurance, workers without benefits are left vulnerable and face vexing problems.
Unlike employees, who receive certain health and income benefits through an employer, freelancers receive little to no benefits. On top of that, freelancers face fewer legal protections for contractors than do employees. This mediates a lot of risk for contract workers, especially given that their income regularly fluctuates. The unstable, episodic source of income causes a lot of angst and stress.
Despite these challenges, however, the independent workforce continues to grow, and it’s growing fast. Perhaps it’s an appeal to the flexibility and independence that bland offices and cubicles can’t offer. Freelance encourages start-ups and innovation, which has a great appeal to millennials. It also allows people to ditch the overly long, frivolous work hours and indulge more time doing social and leisurely activities. Freelancing epitomizes America’s individualistic society, and it allows workers to fully and willingly ripen and share the fruits of their labor.
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Unfortunately, there is certainly a lot of stigma regarding unions, especially with the Trump administration striving to weaken unions, and certain platforms being prohibited from unionization under the National Labor Relations Act. But these restrictions have alternatively helped mediate the growth of Freelance centers and organizations. Upwork, for example, is a company that connects 3.6 million organizations with more than nine million freelancers from around the world. Organizations like these help build a safety net for freelancers to network and build a community of support.
In a society where contract jobs and freelancing are projected to rapidly increase, it would be sound for universities to consider providing guidance and education for students on this new and upcoming independent workforce. Offering workshops in freelancing, entrepreneurship and career management may help graduates prepare for the heavily competitive job market. Not only will they gain critical knowledge of the market, but students will be able to explore the endless possibilities freelancing can offer. Foregoing the traditional office job and branching off from the conventional career path — however frightening it may sound — could perhaps benefit us all by honing the route of innovation for the millennial workforce.
Ayaka Thorson ([email protected]) is a freshman who is currently undecided.