How to prepare students to work in a gig economy

Graduates shouldn't have to turn to external education services for in-demand skills

According to a recent study by economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Kruegrer, freelance and contract work are the fastest growing jobs on the market. Writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey Selingo advises institutions how to prepare students for an alternative work economy.

Teach students long-term adaptability

In an alternative work economy—also called a gig economy—required skills are constantly changing. Previously, students could hone in on one area of specialization in school and apply that specific skillset throughout their careers.

Today, however, students need to be more adaptable and prepare to acquire new skills throughout their entire careers.

"[Students] will need to know when, where, and how to upgrade their skills with employers unwilling to invest in professional development for freelancers in an economy where the skills needed to succeed are ever changing," writes Selingo. 

You don't need to choose between professional development and liberal arts

Look to external education service models

As the workplace evolves toward a gig economy, students and graduates are increasingly turning to resources outside of school to boost their resumes—and they've never had so many options. Services proliferate online and in-person, such as LinkedIn Learning (previously, Koru, Fullbridge, General Assembly, and Galvanize. Students can sign up for a Saturday General Assembly course to learn the basics of WordPress, or subscribe to LinkedIn Learning to take a series of graphic design video tutorials.

These external education services should not have to supplement or replace job skills learned in school, argues Selingo. Institutions should offer these types of courses in addition to traditional academic programs.

3 ways to prep graduates for the job search

 Expand the role of your career center

"Colleges themselves are lagging behind, because campus-career centers still largely operate in the old economy," says Selingo.

Many career centers still only offer the basics—job listings, interview practice, and resume workshops—and they don't offer them to students until senior year.

Career services need to be accessible throughout the entire undergraduate curriculum, says Selingo, and schools "should view career planning not as another service to outsource to start-ups, but as a campus amenity right up there with state-of-the-art academic buildings, recreation centers, and residence halls."

At Denison University, the Possibility Project offers first-year students the opportunity to work in teams throughout a semester to pinpoint their career goals. Then, they meet with parents and alumni who share experiences in similar fields. When the program concludes, students give presentations about their personal interests, which they can revisit in job interviews down the line.

Integrate internship opportunities 

Many employers have shifted toward hiring previous interns for full-time positions, which means that more institutions are offering internship opportunities to undergraduates.

What these schools need to focus on, Selingo writes, is teaching students how to translate internship experiences back into the classroom and vice versa.

In interviewing graduates, Selingo noticed "they had a tough time transferring the underlying competencies they had learned inside and outside the classroom to the jobs they hoped to land."

Selingo suggests offering internship preparation courses or reflection periods where students can assess and articulate their learning.

"The ability to transfer knowledge between the classroom and the workplace and back again is what gets new college graduates hired, because it allows them to show in job interviews what they cannot easily display on their resume or in an application," Selingo notes (Selingo, Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/23).  

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