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The Gig Economy is Growing

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

One of my first-year columns in this paper in December 2016 was entitled “The Contractors Are Coming.” (To see it, enter “Contractors” in the search box at www.fablabicc.org.) In it, I spoke of the need to recognize that much of the workforce of the future would be independent contractors and freelancers. Now, five years later, what is now known as the Gig Economy continues to grow; new contractors have started to come to join the ones we’ve had in the marketplace for years. 

Students Aspire to Own Businesses 

There are many students who would like to become business owners although we still don’t ask them as we push them toward getting a degree so they can get a job working for someone else. Meanwhile, the marketplace is crying out for independent contractors in the trades, plumbing, construction, heating and air conditioning, electrical, auto tech, computer tech and all the rest. The marketplace also wants contractors in the areas of accounting and bookkeeping, marketing, branding, social media management and many other areas. Many in the marketplace don’t want and/or can’t afford full time employees for these functions, especially with the government mandate of a mandatory $15 minimum wage coming. In fact, if the mandate goes into effect, many will be shedding employees in favor of hiring independent contractors and robots to do the work they need done. This is the gig economy. 

Examples are plentiful, especially in the larger cities. Your needed ride or needed food delivery is a “gig” to the Uber driver that will fulfill that need. Your need for remodeling or repair is a “gig” to the contractor you find on web sites like Angie’s List or Home Advisor.com. The term “gig” dates back to the 1920’s in the entertainment industry where bands would book an engagement to perform, a gig. 

Gig Used for Correll Files Podcast Launch 

I launched the Correll Files podcast in July of 2019. It’s a combination of recordings of selected columns from the last five years and interviews with the successful and diverse entrepreneurs I have the privilege of working with on a day-to-day basis. One of the checklist items in preparation is to record an introduction and “outroduction” to be included at the beginning and end of each podcast episode. Most podcasters, including me, want the intro and outro to be professionally recorded. In a rural market like ours, it could take a long time to find a voice talent for this. But, at fiverr.com I was able to choose from every conceivable voice style by listening to audio samples of each of dozens of freelancers. Once I found the right one, I sent the script and within 20 minutes had placed my order. For “MVProductions” it’s another “gig.” 

Young People Don’t Want to Work? Not Really 

We brand many young people as not wanting to work but many really just don’t want to work at the non-meaningful, entry level jobs we want them to accept. We also don’t think many young people are financially literate. This may be true but those that are don’t want to fall into the debt traps of our generation, fearful to give up an unfulfilling job due to too much debt. Many will work hard if doing something they find meaningful. For those, engaging in the gig economy as a freelancer offers both schedule and financial independence. Nick Slavin of Coffeyville is a good example. He and a friend started a lawn care business in the 8th grade. Early into high school, to save the friendship, Nick took over the business and grew it while attending high school. Now, during his first year of college at Emporia State University, he continues to manage his business and he recently acquired the “Snow Cone Shack” a thriving Coffeyville business. He used money saved from the Lawn business to pay for the Snow Cone business. Nick is not afraid of hard work and he seems to be financially literate to me. 

Employees Difficult to Find 

Back to the employment side, if we think it’s difficult to find employees now, as we come out of the pandemic with help wanted signs everywhere, just wait until more and more of the workforce get a taste of freelance independence. Employers are going to need to learn to embrace the gig economy and accomplish much of the work they need to do through automation and freelancers. There are advantages. The cost of automation and freelancers is generally much less than full time employees. 

On a small scale, we have a fledgling prototype representing the gig economy. When you need certain types of work done, or products to purchase, you’ll find the “Fab Lab Marketplace” at our web site (fablabicc.org) as a resource. The offerings of our member entrepreneurs and freelancers will be listed so potential customers can initiate “gigs” with them.  

What is becoming common in the city is just starting to take shape in our regional rural area. We should all spend some time and effort thinking about how we might take advantage of this new element in our economy and a primary driver of opportunity for economic development in our region. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu. Archive columns and podcasts at www.fablabicc.org. 


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