Musicians have a long history of booking a “gig,” completing the job, and moving on. Lately, though, the term has been used to describe a variety of workers. Many people attribute the gig economy’s genesis to around 2008 during the Great Recession, when people scrambled to fill gaps in their income by picking up additional projects. Some of those people found better pay, more flexible hours, and more enjoyment in being professional “giggers” than working a regular job.
Solution architect Jamie Wallingford enjoys the variety and learning opportunities that can come with going from client to client. “I’m a constant learner,” Wallingford said. “If I’m not learning, or I’m bored, then that’s bad for me mentally. That’s one of the things that draws me to it. But even though I switch from job, to job, to job, I try to make sure that the jobs I’m switching to are not the same. It’s also the reason I don’t like taking on a two-year contract. Because if you’re locked into something for that long—and I have been locked into contracts like that—and you find out that the company isn’t going to be growing or changing and you’re going to be locked into it for that period of time, I find that incredibly boring.”
Wallingford’s job involves constant learning and a great deal of confidence and knowledge. He said that his know-how is what helps him assimilate to the workplace culture of each new client. “My work can be very technical. I have enough experience so that usually when I start a new contract, I can earn some technical respect from my peers and colleagues. So, in that regard, once that technical respect is there that’s usually helpful to open the doors because they know I’m not a dullard,” he said.
Adjusting to a company’s culture can be an important yet challenging task for people within the gig economy. “It depends on the length of the contract, but for me, if I know I’m going to be someplace for a while, I’m going to do my research on the company before I go because I want to know where I’m going,” said Wallingford. “And every client is different. Some clients treat you like an employee and other clients don’t, and you’re an outcast and that’s just the way it is. So then it comes down to the personal relationships you make while you’re there. But I’ve worked for several companies where you go, and they just treat you like you’re disposable…because they hire you and let you go whenever they want.”
Another big obstacle is relationships.
“Building relationships within the company can be challenging,” Wallingford said. “You’re coming in to work with a client and you don’t have the shared knowledge or know about the product they’re building so you don’t have an institutionalized knowledge—if you’re just going from client, to client, to client, you don’t know the job. You’ll learn what you need in order to do the job but you don’t really have the opportunity to master what you’re doing because you know you’re going to be moving.”
Being successful in the gig economy requires a certain “hustle,” and can deter some people from trying—or from staying. Michael Kavi, a jack-of-all-trades man who has done work ranging from building sets for stage productions to fixing broken machines, spent less than a year trying to break into the gig economy. “When I did that, it didn’t really work out that great,” Kavi said. “I was able to make it for around four months.” Not being able to secure affordable health care for his family was one of the biggest factors that pushed him out and compelled him to seek traditional employment. “You have to be insanely diligent with money and scheduling to make it work,” he added.
Kavi added that the people he knows who were successful as tradespeople in the gig economy have all gone on to open their own businesses.
Though financial factors are a main concern among those in the gig economy, Wallingford said other difficulties can dissuade people from job-to-job. “What usually keeps people away is people like comfort and want to know what they’re going to be doing. A lot of people need an external stimulus to provide that comfort as well as provide for them a sense of accomplishment. If you’re the type of person who needs that external support, the gig economy is probably not for you. It needs to come from within. You need to have confidence in your capabilities and be able to drive success from what you’re doing, rather than from someone telling you you’re doing a good job.”
Wallingford goes into every new gig armed with his personal motto, “Make it suck less.” He explains, “I try to do that in all my engagements with clients.” It’s a way to make every interaction positive for this avid learner. “I always learn something new, maybe different techniques, learning different areas of business, different types of technology used in business, those are always good.”
People well-suited for the gig economy have the ability to adapt quickly and walk into a new environment confidently. They also have good connections within their industry and a solid reputation. While some of the perks of traditional employment—a steady paycheck and predictability—aren’t necessarily a facet of the gig economy, the perks of gig work—variety and the ability to pick and choose jobs—are enough to lure some professionals in.
For many people within the gig economy, having their professional fate in their own hands is a perk. If a job ends unexpectedly, the person simply finds another one. It’s potentially far less traumatic than suddenly getting laid off from a full-time job.
Nebraska is an at-will employment state, meaning employers can terminate employment as they see fit. People involved in these jobs have a safeguard against sudden, unexpected unemployment since they become adept at finding more work as needed. Networking, confidence, and persistence are required to succeed within this economy—as is a willingness to let go of the comfort that comes with a stable job.
For most people, though, the toughest part of being in the gig economy is taking the initial leap to get started.
This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.