Gen Y: A Driving Force Behind the Gig Economy?

When the parents of so-called Gen Y (aka the Millennials) graduated from college or high school, they knew exactly what to do: Get a job. Their employers may have changed periodically as they climbed the proverbially career ladder, but the basic concept that adults had full-time jobs with single employers over periods of years was pretty much a given.

Who has a job anymore?

Not anymore, according to a recent article in Portfolio magazine. And who’s behind this change? None other than Millennials. Thanks to a terrible economy and an explosion in technology for both remote work and matching sellers of services with companies needing to get stuff done, this generation is increasingly giving up their jobs in favor of gigs. Portfolio explains:

Over the past two years, we’ve seen nearly a 250 percent jump in Millennials electing an independent career as either a freelancer or independent consultant. Unlike previous generations, Millennials are making the decision much sooner in their career path to take control of their careers.

The story for this generation is one of companies dissecting work into project-based deliverables with clear objectives and measurable results, while workers sell their knowledge in small installments, project by project.

Matching grads with gigs

And it’s not just Portfolio which is tracking the rise of the gig economy. Writing on the American Express OPEN Forum blog, Barry Moltz also notes the rise of interest both among companies and workers for platforms such as Elance and oDesk that match pay-per-service workers with clients.

Rather than focus on the increasing acceptance of this way of working among younger workers, Moltz explains the phenomenon’s tech underpinnings, advantages and disadvantages. The first two of these are pretty obvious (faster, better internet and flexibility and agility, respectively). The last is less often discussed.

Online platforms for buying and selling services tend “to drive down the price of services with less barriers to supply,” write Moltz, who cites Elance CEO Fabio Rosati for support. He compares his company and similar services to Amazon: “You are no longer limited to the stores on main street. You can almost buy anything, anywhere.”

Good for Gen Y?

So is Gen Y’s embrace of the gig lifestyle likely to help or harm them overall? The list of pros and cons is long and varied, so it is difficult to say decisively. While they may gain work-life balance, independence, control and the some security from a catastrophic layoff by working for many clients, they also probably lose a fair slice of income, easy networking opportunities and, if they’re American, most likely affordable health insurance. Then again, with so many Millennials out of work, many may not be able to afford to pick and choose their career path.

And, of course, there rise of the gig economy raises no shortage of questions about training. How do companies get contingent workers up to speed quickly? And how do workers polish their skills and develop new ones without the sponsorship of a long-term employer? It’s a brave new world out there in the gig economy with many questions yet to answer.

Do you think overall the rise of the contingent worker is a plus for employees or an erosion of their security and benefits?

London-based blogger Jessica Stillman covers generational issues and trends in the workforce for BNET.com.

(Image courtesy of Flickr user mccheek, CC 2.0.)

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