What are “Growth-Gigs”? (and why they’re perfect for college students and recent grads)

If you’ve been keeping up with “future of work” articles, studies, and thought leaders, you’ll likely have noticed a few trends:

  1. Significant increase in gig economy workers and use of high-skill freelancers at large companies (in the U.S. alone gig workers are expected to reach 42 million in 2020)
  2. Decreased half-life of skills and the need for continuous upskilling of the workforce
  3. Unfilled jobs (particularly at entry-level) due to a severe skills gaps
  4. Increased hoards of disillusioned college students and recent grads faced with high debt, minimal experience relevant to their studies, and lack of career certainty and direction.

These trends make sense:

  1. The gig economy creates increased flexibility for workers while allowing companies to leverage talent more efficiently without significant investments in training and (let’s face it) the financial benefits of not having to bring on more FTEs.
  2. Technology is increasing at an extremely rapid pace, which makes hard skills tied to specific platforms, coding languages, software, or processes relevant for shorter periods of time.
  3. Educational institutions (universities, community colleges, workforce development, alternative education, etc.) and employers aren’t as aligned as they need to be on what skills and experiences are essential and how to develop them effectively and ethically.
  4. There’s tons of research on challenges in higher education, but the overall increased costs of higher education, decreased “return on investment,” focus on fulfilling major requirements, lack of direction on how those majors can be applied to the workplace, lack of opportunities for hands-on professional exploration ….are all tied to the misalignment of expectations between university offerings and future outcomes for graduates.

On the bright side…

There are a plethora of organizations innovating in this space and leveraging these trends to solve challenges at the intersection of the future of education and the future of work.

Universities are partnering with employers to develop career related programming (). Employers are developing their own curricula. Alternative education orgs are offering Income Share Agreements to create opportunities to gain high-demand skills without increased debt. And a number of startups are working towards creating increased opportunities for hands-on professional experiences and experiential learning so students can better align their studies with potential career options.

The good news? More people are entering this space by the day to solve these challenges. The bad news? It appears that lots of the work is being done in silos. How do we keep track of those solving these problems and learn from each other?*

I’m part of that final bucket of startups.

I work at Parker Dewey, where we’re leveraging these gig economy trends to work towards bridging the college to career gap. While the gig economy has numerous implications for employers, its very nature lends itself to multiple experiences for giggers (a key component of career exploration).

While full time roles are a common goal for those graduating college, why not leverage the gig economy while you’re still a student to explore, gain professional hands-on experiences, build relationships with employers, and stack your resume? 

Of course, in this instance, I’m not referring to traditional “gigs” like Uber or Task Rabbit. I’m referring to “growth-gigs” — gigs that build on previous knowledge, require critical thinking and creativity, mimic the roles students hope to be in after graduation, and have clear deliverables.

What might qualify as a growth-gig, you ask?

These growth-gigs aren’t a far cry from projects students might complete in business classes, but they have a few key differences:

  • They’re paid. This adds to the intrinsic motivation to get it right.
  • They’re real. These aren’t abstract organizations; they’re real companies relying on real work.
  • They’re not limited to specific majors. Sure, maybe a business student gets these kinds of “real world” projects, but do history students? 

But growth-gigs are certainly not a one-way street. Employers can experience a number of benefits too:

  • Growth giggers complete work that might not be the best use of an employee’s time (thereby boosting productivity).
  • Employers can judge the experience of working with a growth gigger and their deliverables as a potential “audition” for how the gigger would perform on the job (getting more insight than a resume alone could ever provide).
  • Since growth gigs are typically short-term, employers can break beyond traditional hiring metrics (GPA, academic pedigree) and try out more non-traditional candidates in a low-risk way.

As the gig economy continues to become a daily reality for employees, growth gigs with college students and recent grads also provide a unique opportunity for employees to practice working with contingent workers. Instead of making a big bet on a large project, employees can get practice with scoping and managing gig workers on a low risk project that simultaneously provides an incredible opportunity to a college student or recent grad.

Of course, since these are gigs for learning, the deliverables might not be perfect. But if their output saves an employee a few hours of time, isn’t that still a win? If it gets an employee to 90% of what the deliverable should be, isn’t that still saving them time and effort?

When it comes to growth-gigging, there are a few questions we need to ask ourselves to help the idea take off.

For College Students and Recent Grads:

How can we encourage a culture of growth gigging in college? Throughout our careers? Opportunities to really use and practice skills in the “real world” — instead of just paying for classes where we get to do projects that mimic the “real world” experience. 

For Employers:

How can we encourage a culture of growth gigs at our places of work? How can we view offloading tasks for the long term benefits they create instead of merely for the immediate need that must be met? In paying it forward, providing growth gigs, and “projectizing” work, employers can create opportunities while simultaneously building their talent pipeline. Isn’t that worth the initial (and minimal) upfront investment of considering a new potential pathway?

Of course, there are a number of considerations for employers relating to legal risks, confidentiality, etc. But at the very least at Parker Dewey, we’ve solved for those:

  • Both parties sign strict NDAs
  • All work product is owned by the employer
  • Growth giggers are 1099s through Parker Dewey
  • We take all liability

What do you think of growth gigs?

I certainly wish that I’d have done a few as a college student. Then perhaps I wouldn’t have graduated as lost as I was — as a Spanish major in Miami.

While growth gigs aren’t the only solution, they’re a start at creating a win-win scenario (for students and employers) where universities can play a supporting role.

What are some other ways you’re seeing that organizations are bridging the college to career gap? How else might students get hands on professional experiences as a means of career exploration in a way that also benefits employers?

These challenges aren’t the responsibility of universities and students alone. The private sector receiving workers must also contribute to building the workforce of the future, as should the government.

Because it’s only through a collaborative effort that we can hope to confront any of these challenges. I’d like to be part of that effort. Would you?