California Community Colleges launch Self-Employment Pathways in the Gig Economy project

580 200 Ed Coghlan

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It’s a uniquely tech sector term—the gig economy.

That’s a cool description for a fast-growing part of our workforce—one that is built around short-term, discrete jobs (or gigs) performed by people who operate independently (translated, they are working for themselves).

Uber, Lyft, Turo and Airbnb are just four well-known companies that have emerged in this dynamic and disruptive space.

How big is the gig economy? In the “Freelancing in America” study, commissioned by Freelancers Union and Upwork and conducted by independent research firm Edleman Intelligence, 34 percent of the American workforce – or 53.7 million people – are working as freelancers who “have engaged in supplemental, temporary, or project-based work adding $1.4 trillion annually to the economy through their freelance work.”

So, it makes sense then that the California Community Colleges' has launched the Self-Employment Pathways in the Gig Economy project, funded by their Strong Workforce Program. The purpose of the project is to prepare students to become freelancers and independent contractors in the growing gig economy.

The Strong Workforce Program is part of Doing What MATTERS for Jobs and the Economy (DWM), a framework of the Workforce and Economic Development Division of the California Community Colleges.

“By 2020, projections show that the number of people participating in the gig economy will grow to over 43 percent of the workforce and by 2027 it is projected to reach a majority of the of the workforce,” said Charles Eason, the business and entrepreneurship sector navigator for the California Community Colleges. “Since being a freelancer or independent contractor technically means you are in business, we want to make sure our students have both the technical skills and the business skills they need to succeed.”

Another interesting finding from “Freelancing in America” was that more than half of freelancers updated their skills in the last six months, while less than a third of non-freelancers updated their skills. This bodes well for community colleges, which are well positioned to provide these freelancers with opportunities to update their skills.

The gig economy project is comprised of three components. The first component is a general Intro to Small Business or Entrepreneurship course that covers basics such as legal structures, licensing, permits, self-employment taxes, quarterly estimated income tax requirements, insurance, intellectual property concepts, and other topics that freelancers would need to know since they are technically in business for themselves.

A second component is a more specific course related to how to participate in the gig economy, utilizing the various online platforms such as Upwork, Linkedin Gigs, Fiverr, Freelancer, and Loconomics, PeoplePerHour. The third component is an experiential learning or work-study course in which the students can work with a launch coach/mentor one on one to secure gigs for their business.

“The gig economy is not only exploding in California, but also it is projected to continue to grow rapidly,” said Van Ton-Quinlivan, executive vice chancellor for the California Community College system. “This program decodes for students how to prepare to be self-employed freelancers and independent contractors in the gig economy.”

College of the Canyons, as lead college on the project, conducted a pre-launch project over the summer of 2017 to identify the needs and gaps that must be addressed to help students prepare to be freelancers and independent contractors. After the pre-launch, the following 23 colleges signed up to participate in the Self-employment Pathways in the Gig Economy Project: Cabrillo College, College of Alameda, College of the Canyons, College of Marin, College of the Siskiyous, Cosumnes River College, Cuesta College, East LA College, El Camino College, Evergreen Valley College, Golden West College, Moorpark College, Oxnard College, Palomar College, Pasadena College, Riverside City College, San Jose City College, Santa Monica College, San Diego Continuing Education, Sierra College, Skyline College, Southwestern College, West Hills College. The first cohort of students started in the 2018 Spring semester.

“Pasadena City College has a cohort of 15 students who are finishing the Spring Gig Economy program in June,” said Kimberly Shediak, Ed.D. at PCC. “The students attended the program meetings and received individual business consulting from our Small Business Development Center Advisors. All of the participants have either grown their current freelance business or taken the necessary steps to launch their freelance business within the next couple of months. The feedback from the participants has been very positive.”

Six more colleges will join the project this fall.

“This is the type of program from which people who are starting out in the workforce or who are making a change in their career can benefit,” said Leah Grassini Moehle of the California Economic Summit, the state's largest public- and private-sector network working to advance and accelerate progress being made in workforce preparation, housing and community development, infrastructure and working landscapes.


Ed Coghlan

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