What a career in the gig economy looks like

What a career in the gig economy looks like

Helen Evans didn’t plan on becoming a gig-worker.

Having held casual jobs in hospitality for most of her early working life with bad hours and no regular work, Helen went looking for a more ‘normal’ career. Her first full time position was as a receptionist at a print company. Within 2 years Helen achieved 3 promotions and was appointed print manager.

At first, the weekends off and paid sick leave were exciting. However, quickly Helen began to question what she really wanted in life. A desire for freedom, flexibility, and creativity, drove her to search for an alternative way to work and live.

Now, working mostly in events and promotions, Helen is one of approximately 45,000 people in Australia currently employed in the gig economy.

FYA’s New Work Order report explores some of the challenges that growing casualisation is presenting for young people in our workforce, but there are still so many myths about what navigating the gig economy is really like. 

We asked Helen to share some of the pros and cons of life in the casualised workforce:

Tell us what jobs are currently in your portfolio of work?

I am currently working as a casual event assistant at the State Library, freelance for a team building company as a facilitator and am a silent disco DJ. I also pick up various gigs through Apps such as Sidekicker and work in TV and film in various roles.

What are the benefits of portfolio career over a more traditional linear pathway?

Having the freedom to choose when I work and where I work has been great for me as I’m someone who gets bored easily. Now I hardly ever work in the same place twice. I don’t work with the same people either so it constantly feels fresh, no in house gossip or politics when you’re freelance.

I have more flexibility in my life to go on holiday and do the things I want, I never have to ask for time off and feel in control of my own working life.

Having a shorter working week is great I have a lot more time to do the things I love and have learnt to manage my time wisely. Google calendar is my go to tool to organise my schedule.

What have been your biggest challenges in managing a portfolio of jobs?

I’m always searching for new leads for more consistent work. I write follow up emails to companies or people I’ve met and say I’d like to work for them in the future. This has lead to lots more ongoing gigs and makes you stand out from the crowd.

I also don’t get paid as much as a full time job but that’s balanced with having more free time which I value more. I have to learn to budget my cashflow and manage my time wisely.

What skills do you use all the time in your work?

Adaptability – Say yes to anything, learn to do as much as you can even if it’s not the role you’re currently doing, ask questions and try new things.

Organisational – Learn to be on time or better, early. Fit in as much as possible when there’s work but don’t work yourself too hard or you’ll end up feeling like you’re doing too much.

Social – Talk to people, ask them questions, be interested in others;the saying really is true it’s not what you know it’s who you know. Let people know what you can offer.

Did school give you the skills you needed to navigate this career?

No way. I never really knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to study acting as I thought as an actress in someway I’d get to do everything. I was discouraged from this pathway in high school where it was suggested I should ‘choose subjects that will lead to a job’.

I did end up taking a degree in Theatre Arts and then a postgraduate degree in Primary Education but I only worked as a teacher for a year. I’ve learnt most of what I needed to on the job.

What advice would you give someone just starting out in their career?

I wish I’d known there was an alternative to working in one job. I feel I spent years trying to work out what I was supposed to ‘be’.

I’ve always had a feeling that something was wrong with me. I don’t stick with jobs for too long. I think I’ve now had over 80 different jobs in the past 20 years! But now I see this as an advantage not a disadvantage. I have so many skills and abilities I know I can do anything if I’m given a chance. I learn quickly and once I know how to do a job well enough I move on.

I’ve learnt not all of us will, or are meant to, have just one career path.

While Helen has shared her largely positive experience navigating the gig economy, this is not the case for every young person in the casualised workforce. Read our recent myth buster about some of the assumptions and challenges in the gig economy.