It is estimated that more than four million Australians currently work as contractors or freelancers, or are self-employed.
This explosion in flexible work practices continues to trend upwards thanks to the gig economy and on-demand services such as Uber, Deliveroo and online services that assist freelancers find and compete for work.
Self-employment and contract work for on-demand services brings both challenges and rewards – importantly self-employed workers need to thrive on the rapid change of such work, ensuring they not only stay up to date with their own field of expertise, but also are across business basics including marketing, accounting, financial planning and insurance needs.
Noel Noseworthy from income insurance protection agency ROOBYX has offered 10 essential steps for satisfaction in the gig economy in an article in The Australian yesterday.
To expand on this, I would argue that preparation for the gig economy, flexible employment or self-employment starts long before the decision to move away from traditional employment.
As Benjamin Franklin is attributed as saying: “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” and secondary and tertiary education is a critical pathway of preparation for many of our students.
So, let’s look at the seven ways vocational education & training can ensure students are preparing for success in this new economic and employment climate:
1. Communications skills – anyone with a teenage daughter or son can probably attest to the fact their ability to communicate with parents and siblings can at times be challenging. However, their interaction with their friends and peers is entirely different and, in its own way, successful. We learn to communicate and adapt that communication to our audience from a very young age. However, honing those techniques to suit a variety of audiences and to ensure consistency (and therefore generate trust and professionalism) is vital, no more so than when workers are offsite or freelance and must maintain relationships with employers, clients and customers.
2. Use of business technology – teenagers are more adaptable than ever to new technologies. However, translating that use from a social sense into business acumen gives students a head start in successfully preparing to run their own business or manage their finances as a contractor. From accounting software such as MYOB to marketing programs like Photoshop and InDesign, experience in business technology gives student a very real competitive edge over others in the workforce.
3. Self-management skills – arguably the most challenging component of self-employment for many people is the ability to self-manage, whether that be their workloads, the times they work or their continued professional development and education. Being armed with key insights into self-management techniques is a key preparation tool in the gig economy that gives students an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses and how they can work with both to ensure success.
4. Production of professional documents – a key trait of the gig economy and freelance work is the pressure on workers to become a master of all areas of business. Nothing says professionalism more than a contractor who produces well formatted, carefully edited professional documents. A vital but often overlooked component in building trust between worker and client.
5. Sales skills – the traditional hard-hitting salesperson persona has, in the past, discouraged many people from trying their hand at sales roles. However, the ability to convert a lead into a sale is essential in the gig economy with workers openly competing for clients in an increasingly crowded and noisy marketplace. Techniques and tips to make a sale are not only practical but also give students confidence, no matter what their personality type.
6. Working with customers – the adage of the ‘customer is always right’ can be one of the most challenging day-to-day practices for contractors and freelancers. Seeing your work scrutinised and changed can be difficult, but when changes are made that result in mistakes and errors the worker requires specific techniques to carefully manage the situation and not alienate the customer or client.
7. Delivery of presentations – all of us at some stage have experienced “death by PowerPoint”. Hastily prepared presentations with little focus on the listener/viewer are a waste of time for all concerned. Students who are taught to prepare thoughtful and insightful presentations, and are given the confidence to speak effectively in public, will find themselves miles ahead of their competition through their ability to persuade their audience.
Of course, the above skills – all of which are taught within the vocational education & training courses available through St Stephen’s College – are also fantastic preparation for students who are looking to move into traditional employment or tertiary education. Vocational education and training, with its skills based assessment approach, is an ideal way for students to build an array of practical skills that will stand them in good stead well into the future. No matter their end goal, St Stephen’s College graduates are taking control of their preparation for the work force – furthering their chances of success.
by Iain Langridge, CEO, St Stephen's College