Inadvertently, Catherine Maybrey found herself ahead of the times when her side gig as a career coach developed into a successful business. She had initially hoped to become a history professor, but academia is a notoriously precarious profession for young entrants and Ms. Maybrey could not find secure work in her field.
“I became interested in career coaching several years after I graduated with my PhD, when I was completely lost as to what I needed to do to find a job and what that job should be,” she recalled in an interview. After earning a postgraduate college diploma as a career development practitioner, Ms. Maybrey landed job at McMaster University as the alumni career coach. When her hours were cut to three days a week owing to a budget shortfall, she formed her own side business and eventually struck out on her own.
So now, in what LinkedIn workplace researchers refer to as “the age of the side hustle,” Ms. Maybrey has plenty of experience to draw on when clients come to her Hamilton-based practice worried about their prospects in the emerging gig economy.
“Your first position out of academia is not likely to be your dream job,” she advises them. “Focus on the practical. Do what needs to be done to make sure your basic needs are met, and then focus on what you want to do and how you are going to get there.”
Volunteering or landing a second, part-time job in one’s area of interest through a temporary employment agency is important for making connections. If you have expertise to share, post it on social media, she tells job candidates. Attend conferences. “Make yourself visible.”
In a guest post for University Affairs magazine on PhDs and the gig economy, Ms. Maybrey wrote that “academia has, in effect, been sort of a test market for the gig economy and the picture isn’t pretty.” But outside academia, as well, contract positions have been growing at a much greater pace than permanent positions.
While many private-sector employers might operate with 80 per cent full-time employees and 20 per cent contract employees, the ratios can be 50-50 in “fields such as technology, where you might be developing new products, or a creative environment where you are pitching for new work all the time and the work flows aren’t constant,” said Pina Nicoli, Toronto-based Metro market manager for Robert Half Technology.
For entry-level candidates and people between jobs looking for full-time work, a contract position can be “a good foot in the door,” Ms. Nicoli said.
But she has also seen a significant increase in the numbers of “interim professionals” who do contract work by choice rather than circumstance. It gives them the flexibility to run their own businesses on the side or expand their skills and expertise through a range of postings.
Ms. Maybrey said that, for the most part, her clients would prefer secure, permanent work “and they would be willing to sacrifice to have that stability.” If offered the choice between a lower-paying “continuing job” or a higher-paying 10-month contract, most would say, “I will take less money, thank you very much, so I can breathe, so I can make plans.”
Harley Finkelstein, chief operating officer of Ottawa-based e-commerce platform Shopify, wrote in a recent article published by Forbes that “the emergence of the gig economy is a seismic shift in the world of work” and it is inevitable that more and more jobs will be done by freelancers, independent contractors and side-hustlers.
“From many corners, we’ve seen concern and lament for the loss of good jobs and steady income,” Mr. Finkelstein wrote. Still, he said, “in unprecedented numbers, people from all backgrounds have shrugged off or supplemented uninspiring corporate jobs by taking their livelihoods into their own hands … . For many people, it has instilled the tenets of entrepreneurial hustle and introduced the idea of being your own boss.”
The researchers at LinkedIn have also noticed a shift in attitudes about what constitutes a successful career. A recent survey of 2,000 LinkedIn members in the United States found that “the corner office is out and the side hustle is in.”
Only 4 per cent of those surveyed regard advancement to the corner office as the pinnacle of success, LinkedIn reported in a blog posting.
We’ve launched a new weekly Careers newsletter. Sign up today.