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career 7 min read

The gig economy, portfolio careers and remote work: How to be successful in the future world of work

By USQ 08 Apr 2019
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There’s no doubt about it … the world of work is changing. Rapidly.

The ever-increasing sophistication of technology and automation has disrupted the face of many industries, changing the types of jobs available and changing the way we work. Research indicates that we are already experiencing more varied, less stable ways of working, such as more part-time work, remote work, freelance work, the gig economy, and portfolio careers.

To many students, alumni and workers, these changes and the resulting seemingly-unpredictable future may be confusing, discouraging and, let’s be honest, downright scary.

The truth is that, yes, the world of work is changing; but that doesn’t have to spell inevitable doom and gloom.

For example, while the term ‘gig economy’ is one of the most common buzzwords relating to the changing world of work, not every job in the future will be a part of the gig economy. In fact, job ads for full-time, part-time and casual work on Seek.com.au in 2017 increased by 13.2% from the previous year, reflecting the best conditions for jobseekers on this website since 2010 (Foundation of Young Australians, 2017).

That being said, it’s important that you, as a USQ student or alumni, are prepared to navigate the changing world of work, no matter what happens.

So, let’s take a closer look at some of the new ways of working and how to prepare for, navigate, and be successful in, a modern career.

New ways of working in the modern workforce

First of all, you may be wondering what some of the new ways of working are. Let's take a closer look.

What is a portfolio career?

A portfolio career doesn’t follow a traditional career path of rank progression in a particular function or company and is made up of a number of part-time, casual or temporary positions. Many workers with a portfolio career have more than one job at a time, may work remotely, participate in freelance work, and contribute to the gig economy.

In 2016, nearly one in ten Australian workers were participating in short-term job arrangements, with 32% not expecting to be with their current employer in 12 months’ time (Nalder, 2018).

Statistic - Nearly 1 in 10 Australian workers participated in short-term job arrangements in 2016

What is the gig economy?

According to The Foundation of Young Australians (2017), 45 000 people in Australia are currently employed in the gig economy. In a gig economy, there are few permanent employees and work is assigned to temporary contract workers or freelancers. As organisations move away from hierarchical career paths and towards flatter structures, workers are increasingly being brought together to form teams to work on particular projects or tasks.

Statistic - In 2017, 45 000 people in Australia were employed in the gig economy

What does remote work mean?

Technology comes with many benefits that support this change in the way we work. One such way is in enabling us to work remotely. Remote work is when you complete tasks from home or another space that isn’t organised by the company you work for. Remote work typically involves virtually connecting with your employer and maybe even your team via digital technology.

Benefits of these new work types

Of course, each job you take when you participate in any of these new ways of working will be different and will have different rules and expectations, but there are some common benefits to these modes of working, which include:

  • flexibility
  • autonomy
  • increased productivity
  • variety
  • ability to utilise and develop a wide range of skills and interests
  • ability to pursue multiple passions
  • control over work-life balance
  • freedom from corporate agendas and politics
  • reduced or eliminated costs associated with commuting (if working remotely).
Statistic - Benefits of new work types

Challenges of these new ways of working

All of these benefits don’t come without a price. There are a number of challenges that workers face when participating in the gig economy and other new ways of working.

In a permanent job, you know how much you’ll earn and you’re guaranteed to make that amount consistently throughout your employment. One of the greatest challenges of managing your own portfolio of work is that you’re solely responsible for finding jobs, as well as actually completing them. Because of this, you will need to spend time looking for new leads and promoting yourself and the services you can provide, in the hopes of finding more consistent work. If there’s no demand for your services when you’re looking for clients, you may not be able to maintain a full-time workload, which obviously affects the amount of income you can generate and may result in a lack of stability.

Underemployment is common for those participating in the gig economy, with 2017 data indicating that 8.8% of the Australian population was underemployed, the highest percentage since records began in the 1970s (Nalder, 2018).

Statistic - In 2017, 8.8% of the Australian population was underemployed, the highest percentage since records began in the 1970s

Because gig workers are also solely responsible for organising their own GST, superannuation, income protection and insurance, there is concern many are missing out on these traditional job entitlements altogether. As an independent contractor, you won’t have income security for when you want to go on holidays and there’s no paid sick leave. If you’re participating in the gig economy, you won’t be protected against unfair dismissal, you won’t receive redundancy payments and there’s no protection in place to ensure you make the national minimum wage. That doesn’t mean you can be taken advantage of though, it’s just really important that you know your rights. For more information, visit the Australian Government’s Fair Work website.

In addition to these challenges, those participating in the gig economy can experience a sense of isolation, especially if working remotely, and many may lose motivation without any formal structures placed on their work, except for those that are self-imposed. Many workers participating in the gig economy experience burnout because they didn’t set up appropriate boundaries after leaving their 9-to-5 job.

USQ student Alix, who is currently managing a portfolio career herself in addition to her studies, says, ‘It can be challenging having to manage my own time, set my own priorities, and do things that aren’t technically part of my job, like being my own IT guy. It’s also difficult having to source work and market myself, especially as I’m a natural introvert. But I am the key to my success – if I don’t do these things, nobody else is going to do them for me.

'Perhaps one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a portfolio worker has been figuring out and setting an appropriate freelance rate. You have to work out what your minimum hourly rate is, taking into account that as a freelancer/portfolio worker not all your jobs come with superannuation and holidays built in. Then, you have to decide if taking a job for less than you want to earn is worth it.’

It can be challenging ... but I am the key to my success – if I don’t do these things, nobody else is going to do them for me.
Author profile image of Alix

The skills you’ll need to succeed in a modern career

Want to make sure you’re as prepared as possible for these new ways of working?

These are some of the key characteristics and skills that will help you succeed in the modern workforce, and skills you can be developing and refining throughout your degree:

  1. Organisation, planning and time management
  2. Self-marketing – personal branding
  3. Entrepreneurial mindset and initiative
  4. Resilience, agility, adaptability and risk tolerance
  5. Ability to say no and to set boundaries
  6. Communication and interpersonal skills
  7. Technical and digital skills
  8. Problem solving and decision making
  9. Initiative, persistence, optimism, and ambition.
Statistic - The skills you'll need to succeed in a modern career

Tips and advice from USQ students and alumni

Alix’s experience:

USQ student Alix is currently managing a portfolio of work that includes a full-time job in tax and several different editing jobs on a casual and contract basis. After falling pregnant with her fourth child, Alix wanted a way to spend more time at home. She found that studying online at USQ helped prepare her for remote work by teaching her to manage her time, be accountable for her actions and use technology effectively.

‘Using technology to submit assignments and communicate with lecturers and other students has helped me understand and embrace online communication. Developing and maintaining virtual networks through uni has also really helped me to navigate the remote-work life – many of my clients are people I will never meet in person, and many have contacted me because of other people in my network.’

Her advice for anyone currently pursuing a portfolio career or thinking about following this path is to ‘treat your work as real work that should be valued as such. Don’t think that just because you aren’t in an office or in the field that your work is less valuable than someone else’s. Learn how to ask for help if you need to, and how to admit you’ve made a mistake. Learn from others in your field. If you can, find a mentor who you can talk to and who will help you develop. Make sure you get out of the house and into the real world from time to time. People need people, even if they don’t think they do.'

Don’t think that just because you aren’t in an office or in the field that your work is less valuable than someone else’s.
Author profile image of Alix

Alix’s advice for anyone looking for remote work or trying to develop a portfolio career:

  • Use your networks to find work suited to your skills.
  • Join Facebook groups, use LinkedIn, look at similar businesses and find what sets you apart.
  • Take whatever jobs you need to in order to establish yourself. Every job increases your level of skill and confidence, no matter how small or easy it seems.
  • Be genuine with potential clients. People can identify insincerity and if they think they sense it in you, they will find someone else to do their job.
  • Depending on what kind of work you do, prepare yourself to specialise in being a generalist. The more you limit your work-type, the less work you can take on.
  • Take (calculated) risks and be bold – timidity earns no rewards.

Toby’s experience:

Toby is a Bachelor of Business graduate who currently juggles a full-time contract position with a number of side projects, volunteer work, and on-request freelance roles providing marketing strategy advice. When asked how he started working as part of the gig economy, Toby said, ‘I read a stat that said, on average, young people change their career direction five times. I guess I figured, why not get that out of the way early and try as many things as possible! For me, it is easier to stay dedicated to lifelong learning when I’m driven to learn new things by starting new jobs, often in completely different fields. I thrive on a new challenge. As they say, variety is the spice of life!’

Toby’s greatest challenges when managing his portfolio career are prioritising his workload, a lot of which he does outside normal business hours, and avoiding procrastination, to ensure he gets a decent amount of non-work time and is productive with the work time he has.

Toby’s advice for anyone trying to develop a portfolio career:

I don’t think you should pursue a portfolio career just for the sake of it, but if you think about something for long enough and it feels right, it usually is.

I realise some employers might not look fondly on résumés that reveal you haven’t stayed with an organisation for more than a few years, but knowing how having a portfolio career has helped me develop relevant skills and broaden my perspective, I don’t think they’re employers I would want to work for.

If doing multiple jobs is right for you, then you should be able to confidently express that in an interview.

Tips from USQ Career Development Practitioners

We also checked in with Dr Anna Praskova and Deborah Munro, who work in USQ’s Careers & Employability team, to get their expert advice on how students and alumni can prepare for a career in a world of work that is constantly evolving. These are their top three tips:

  1. It’s important to understand, accept, and embrace that this is the new world of work and to take on a positive mindset that welcomes constant changes, as this will bring along a lot of exciting work opportunities.
  2. Know that there is power in choosing to take control of your own working life. Your job security will come via the skillset you build. This is what will enable you to create and choose your own jobs, rather than having to rely on someone else to provide these for you. This will also enable you to build a work life that is right for you.
  3. Be open to new opportunities, and say, ‘YES!’

Change is inevitable, but by taking charge of your career, developing the skills and capabilities mentioned in this article, and embracing the changing modern world of work, you can be successful.

Want more advice on how to prepare for a successful career in a constantly changing workforce?

Learn more about Graduate Employability and what it can mean for your future career.
Banner - The world of work is changing

Resources:

McPherson, S. (2017). What a career in the gig economy looks like. The Foundation of Young Australians. Retrieved from https://www.fya.org.au/2017/11/14/career-gig-economy-looks-like/

Nalder, J. (2018). Why are there so many C-words in the future of work? The Foundation of Young Australians. Retrieved from https://www.fya.org.au/2018/04/11/many-c-words-future-work/

Vong, E. (2017). Busted: 3 myths about the gig economy. The Foundation of Young Australians. Retrieved from https://www.fya.org.au/2017/10/16/busted-3-myths-gig-economy/