he gig economy is expanding at an exponential rate, offering a plethora of opportunities for young individuals who are brimming with talent and enthusiasm.

With the world at their fingertips, many are eschewing traditional employment in favour of flexibility, autonomy, and the chance to carve their paths.

However, despite the palpable shift towards freelancing, our conventional education systems continue to churn out graduates ill-prepared for this new reality.

This misalignment raises significant questions about our educational investments, curriculum design, and the relevancy of our approach.

Rise of Freelance Work and Gigs

Before we dissect the issue, it's essential to grasp the context. The freelance economy is booming. Platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com are witnessing unprecedented growth in users offering diverse services.

People are freelancing not only out of necessity but also by preference, making it a career choice rather than a stopgap measure.

Statistics back up the trend, with reports suggesting that more than a third of the working population in the United States are independent workers. The allure of self-determination, the opportunity to earn more, and the diversity of projects explain the surge.

Why Are More Young People Choosing Freelance?

As of 2024, there are an estimated 76.4 million freelancers in the United States. Half of all US Gen Zers (18 to 22-year-olds) participate in freelance work.  - Exploding Topics

Millennials and Gen Z'ers are often at the forefront of this movement. Raised in the digital age, they are tech-savvy, highly connected, and accustomed to the immediacy of virtual platforms.

They are more likely to value experiences over physical assets and prioritize personal growth. Freelancing, with its promise of many experiences and skill development, aligns closely with these values.

The current generation also tends to be more outcome-focused than those preceding it. Traditional career paths, with their incremental bonuses and slow promotions, could be more attractive compared to the immediate earnings that freelancing can offer.

Is the Education System Supporting Young People Who Want to Freelance?

The disconnect between what educational institutions offer and what the job market demands has never been more apparent. Our schools and universities were designed to produce employees who fit neatly into jobs within structured organizations.

They typically lack specialized training for skills crucial to freelancers, such as project management, networking, and self-promotion.

A cookie-cutter approach to education, which values standardized testing and rote learning, fails to cultivate the creativity and adaptability that freelancers need.

Furthermore, career guidance counsellors often lack experience with—or knowledge of—the gig economy, making it unlikely that they would encourage students to consider freelancing as a viable career path.

Reflecting the demands of recruiters, students increasingly want hands-on work experience as part of their studies, allowing them to start work the first day after graduation. Introducing work assignments, consultancy projects, internships and other initiatives associated to real life challenges may enhance the acquisition of much-needed practical skills. - Santiago Iniguez 
With millions of professionals choosing to freelance on a part- or full-time basis, in a very fast growing range of professionals, we need a formal curriculum that enables future independent professionals to kickstart their freelance career with greater awareness, knowledge, skill, and confidence. - Forbes.

What Skills Do Young People Need to Freelance?

A raft of skills becomes essential for those who see potential in freelancing. In addition to their core competencies, young individuals must be adept at marketing, managing their finances, and continually upskilling.

They need to be comfortable with ambiguity, be able to work in diverse environments and with various teams, and possess a keen business sense.

  • Personal branding 
  • Financial Knowledge
  • Collaboration
  • Building Soft skills
  • Keeping up with what's happening in the particular profession
  • Project management
  • Marketing and selling your products or services
  • Customer Service 

Where Can Young People Apply for Freelance Work?

The good news is that the internet is teeming with resources for potential freelancers. Aside from job platforms, numerous educational websites provide courses tailored explicitly to freelancers, equipping them with the necessary skills for the digital marketplace.

Internships have also transformed into a potential gateway to freelance careers. Platforms like Internshala provide myriad short-term opportunities that can offer a glimpse into the world of freelancing, exposing young individuals to the necessary work ethic and independence.

Here is a list of platforms that offer active programs of both professional and technical continuing education for their freelancers:














The Role of Experience and Mentoring

Experience is arguably the most potent teacher. Young people considering freelancing would benefit significantly from mentorship programs that pair them with professionals in their desired field, providing a practical and invaluable learning experience.

In addition to hard skills, the softer skills of managing client expectations, negotiation, and professional conduct also warrant attention.

These are often learned through trial and error, leading to potentially damaging consequences for young freelancers navigating this terrain alone.

Rewriting the Education Script for the Age of the Freelancer

To be clear, freelancing isn't itself a career. It's the method one takes to a professional career. Unlike 'gigsters' combining multiple non-professional tasks to earn a living, freelancers are generally educated, qualified and experienced professionals who choose to ply their profession as an independent solopreneur.- Forbes

The conversation must shift towards empowering our youth by reimagining the approach to education. We must champion a curriculum that teaches content and skills — skills attuned to the demands of the evolving employment landscape.

Interdisciplinary studies, real-world projects, and opportunities for self-directed learning could be the building blocks for a more inclusive and adaptable system.

A curriculum that integrates professional development, personal branding, and business acumen could benefit future freelancers and individuals pursuing more traditional career paths.

The skills freelancers require are not niche; they are transferable and universally valuable.

The freelancing revolution is in full swing, but our education systems must catch up. It's time to ask ourselves if we are doing enough to prepare the next generation for the autonomy, flexibility, and responsibilities that come with being a freelancer.

By listening to the needs of young people and adapting our approach accordingly, we can ensure that they enter the workforce with all the tools they need to succeed, whether they choose the path of independent workers or not.

Apr 1, 2024
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