A Richmond business consultant contends that Virginia’s Community Colleges are in a strategic position to help people thrive in a rapidly evolving economy that increasingly relies on skilled freelance workers.
“Make no mistake, the gig economy is here to stay,” said Glen Jones, president of Main Street
Management Group. Jones spoke during a winter meeting that brought together workforce development educators and experts from across the state.
“Business has changed,” said Jones. “Slow and steady no longer wins the day. Companies need to be fast and agile to compete, and that means they will hire short-term workers on a contract basis for concentrated projects and initiatives, instead of hiring full-time workers. Companies are looking for specific skills, not corporate experience.”
“Gig” work has been around forever, providing feast-or-famine livings for artists and independent contractors of all stripes. But, project-based work is making up a larger part of the nation’s economy.
Intuit, the “Turbo Tax” company, which has insights into the taxpaying and work experience of millions of Americans, estimates a third of the nation’s workforce is engaged in gig work and predicts that by 2020, 43 percent of American workers will be independent contractors.
“Different population segments have very different attitudes toward gig work,” said Jones. “Millennials like the flexibility of gig work and see the entrepreneurial opportunities that short-term projects present. But older workers, particularly baby boomers, rue the loss of job stability and benefits like health insurance.”
Jones argues that, with facilities statewide and a strong legacy in workforce training, Virginia’s Community Colleges can offer customized programs to meet the needs of employers and potential workers.
“This is an opportunity community colleges don’t want to miss,” said Jones.
Regardless of how you feel about the “gig economy,” one thing is clear: it is changing the social contract that Virginia, and the nation, operated under throughout the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. That carries consequences for individual workers, their families, and every level of government.
Low wage jobs dominate the Virginia economy. More than 57 percent of all jobs in Virginia pay less than $20 per hour, with most paying between $10 and $15 per hour. These jobs – especially service jobs that pay wages below $20 per hour and require a high school education or less – will grow far faster than higher-wage jobs over the next decade, according to a report published by the United Ways of Virginia.
That has some lawmakers, like Virginia’s senior U.S. Senator, Mark Warner, attempting to create a new social contract that will benefit more people in the changing economy.
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