Schools aren’t preparing freelancers and entrepreneurs

Freelance

[I’m back. I took an actual winter break. It was awesome. I highly encourage it!]

Freelancing is on the rise, with perhaps as many as a third of American workers now engaged in some kind of freelancing work. Of course this has enormous implications for overall employment, health benefits, and workforce and job stability. Dennis Yang, CEO of Udemy, notes that

this conversation will [soon] reach critical mass, especially around how freelancers continue to learn and upskill in such a fluid work environment. In the absence of corporate support, these independent workers need to keep hustling to stay ahead of the curve and prove they can out-innovate their peers. In short, as more companies choose to depend on contract workers for key parts of their business, those freelancers will see increasing competition for those gigs and, therefore, more pressure to differentiate themselves and their skills.

Are most schools helping students learn how to leverage their individual interests and skill sets to ‘out-innovate their peers’ and differentiate themselves from the crowd? Are most schools helping students learn how to adopt entrepreneurial mindsets, workflows, and financing techniques in order to be both self-sufficient and competitive in a highly-complex, rapidly-shifting work landscape? Are most schools teaching students how to ‘learn and upskill’ themselves so that they optimize their chances to be selected for the next gig that they’re seeking?

Nope.

Are most schools still primarily running students through a ‘one size fits all’ model, assessing students in standardized ways, discounting students’ unique strengths and talents, and completely ignoring the economic and workforce realities into which they’re sending their supposedly-qualified graduates?

Yep.

Image credit: 20100504-available-for-freelance, Chris Piascik

6 Responses to “Schools aren’t preparing freelancers and entrepreneurs”

  1. Help students learn history, economics, and current affairs so that they can work to mitigate the injustices of a gig economy instead of resigning themselves to it? Yep. Content knowledge is important.

  2. Let’s no be so quick to blame education…again. The articles you cite are about the implications of this growing professional demographic not their background preparation.

    What does it take to prepare free-lancers and entrepreneurs? Seems to me if freelancing has increased to “almost 54 million Americans…an increase of 700,000 over last year…more than a third of the American workforce” then someone must be doing something right (Horowitz, http://www.fastcompany.com/3051686/the-future-of-work/the-state-of-freelancing-in-the-us-in-2015).

    After a a quarter century of conventional employment I became a freelancer & entrepreneur. My daughter, after about five years of conventional employment became a free-lancer and entrepreneur. To be a successful in this pursuit requires specific sets of personal-professional skills and specific sets of field-related skills. Project based learning, a teaching & learning strategy used by many teachers supports aspects of those skills. Teaching students how to learn and think independently is another oft-taught skill imperative to the success of a start-up.

    • Thanks for the comment, Dea. I agree with you that project- and inquiry-based learning strategies can be wonderful vehicles for facilitating students’ problem-solving and other skills. But just because some schools or teachers are doing this – or that some graduates are doing okay – doesn’t mean that most schools are moving in this direction. In fact, the evidence is quite clear that they’re not. We can easily ask questions like ‘What percentage of students get substantive exposure to [workforce, economy, entrepreneurship, freelancing, self-marketing, etc.] concepts while in school?’ and see that the percentages are pretty low in most places. This is not blaming education… again. It’s noting the relevance gaps that continue to exist between current and future reality and school systems that are organized around an increasingly-vanishing past.

      I’ll also note that just because the economy is changing doesn’t mean that graduates / workers are ready for it. Many of them are struggling quite a bit to survive and thrive in this new economy, and many of them don’t have the know-how or the resources to reskill themselves. The economic data bear this out. Some of this can be addressed through larger policy levers. Some of it has been left to individuals to fend for themselves. Can schools help with the latter? Absolutely. Are most schools even cognizant of workforce demands and retooling in appropriate directions? Not yet…

  3. Are we preparing teachers to function in a gig economy? No
    What changes in preparation programs are needed in order to prepare teachers for a gig economy?
    What supports do teachers need to function in a gig economy? What supports do you need to function in a gig economy? What supports do you have in order to function partially in a gig economy? Requires a whole different thought process and discussion doesn’t it?

  4. For a functional gig economy, universal health care is a necessity.

  5. Scott,
    Your post took my thoughts out my brain and words out of my mouth. I really like you questioned and answered “Are most schools still primarily running students through a ‘one size fits all’ model, assessing students in standardized ways, discounting students’ unique strengths and talents, and completely ignoring the economic and workforce realities into which they’re sending their supposedly-qualified graduates?

    Yep.”
    I couldn’t agree with you more. The lessons and skills taught in a successful teacher’s classroom must go beyond the content area and be rooted in students’ culture, passion, and goals in order for them to be invested. With that being said, pedagogy and content are not enough to make a successful classroom.I strongly believe teachers should not have the either of the state standards stapled into their brains. This would not leave any room for other teachable moments. Standards do not include skills that students need to learn to maximize learning and to develop 21st century skills. Mastery of content is not enough. The instruction needs to engage the students, challenge them and help develop their skills. Rather, the standards should just be carried in teachers’ brains and used to guide the pacing.Teachers should keep their eyes on the goal of getting the students ready for college and careers and continuously engage the students with challenging tasks. If teachers are stuck on teaching to the content standards, the ending result will not lead us to students who are prepared for college and careers.

    I am curious if anyone has seen any direct benefits within their classroom as well as direct negative effects on the transition to Common Core. I have started teaching after Common Core was implemented in North Carolina. In addition, I am curious how teachers of mathematics view Common Core compared to myself (a science teacher).

    Thanks for posting this!
    Nicole

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