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Lessons from surviving the "gig" economy

The "gig" economy is a reality facing most millennials today. What is the "gig" economy? It is a "labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs" (BBC News). These positions already make up between 20%-30% of the Canadian workplace, and this ratio is expected to grow (Global News).

The growth of short-term employment flies in the face of what I expected when I came out of high school. I was brought up with the expectation that my career would be long-term and that I would be working the same job (or at least in the same industry) for the majority of my working life. However, it has been seven years since my graduation from university and my career path resembles a giant hairball more than a straight line. I have worked in transportation, business development, research, and mental health. I have never had guaranteed employment beyond a one-year contract. I even went through a "quarter-life crisis" a few years ago which led me to enter into the mental health and career development fields. Throughout this hairy career pathway, I've never gone through a period of unemployment (aside from a year spent full-time in a Masters program) and I've learned some lessons for navigating this 21st-century "gig" economy that could help someone else in their path:

1. Expect the unexpected. My first job fell into my lap right out of university, and was promptly yanked away again. My co-op employer offered me a full-time position as a Fleet Manager of company trucks at a local transportation company. As a 23-year old graduate, that sounded pretty good! Then, less than a month into my employment they announced that the office was moving to another city. I had two options: move in order to keep my job, or find another place to work. Alas, my career in the transportation industry ended as quickly as it began.

2. Leverage your networks. It's not what you know, how skilled you are, or how smart you are that matters. WHO you know matters much more. After being given 4 months lead time to look for employment, I scoured my network (friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances) for opportunities. That led to an intern position that led to a job as an Economic Development Officer the following year.

3. Leave an impression. Let me clarify...leave a GOOD impression. My father gave me one of the most useful career counselling tips of all time when he quoted Ecclesiastes 9:10: "Whatever you do, do well" (NLT). Laziness and entitlement burn bridges, but hard work, diligence, and respect for your co-workers build them. Your reputation will precede you, especially if you work in a rural economy like New Brunswick.

4. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush. It's an old saying, but rings true in this "gig" economy. I will always explore options for employment at least a month in advance of a contracts' end. Regardless of what an employer says to me about wanting to keep me around, there are no guarantees until I have my name signed to a contract. Therefore I make a point to keep in touch with former co-workers and maintain as many friendships as I can. Tying back into #2, you never know when an employment opportunity will present itself.

5. Do not work for free. I understand that it's important to gain experience as a millennial in the workplace, however I have legitimately burned out running around trying to impress everyone with my productivity in areas that were not my responsibility. If your employer is asking you to take on additional responsibilities that are well outside of your current role, you are not being greedy by asking to be compensated for that additional work.

6. Be a collaborator, not a competitor. When you're a part of an organization, even for a short-term contract, never tear down others to gain the upper hand. Never compete for recognition. If you work hard and bring value to the organization, it will show in the results of your work and pave the way for future opportunities.

I hope that this is helpful for someone. Do you have anything else that you'd like to add? Like, comment, and share!

As always, you can contact me at Agapé Counselling for career and mental health services:

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