We Should Let Students Embrace Gig Economy

Here’s my previous article on my working experience when I was a college student about 20 years ago.

Students and part-time employment or unofficial ‘gig economy’ wasn’t not something new or unheard of. Back when I was a student, there are always a physical ads (probably just a small piece of paper) sticked on a physical bulletin board from another fellow students offering services like car rental or transportation service, printing service (for those who doesn’t have a printer), typing services (for those who doesn’t have PC), writing service (for those who lacks both plus lazy enough to do on their own), part-time tutor at some tuition centre and few others. And for those offering printing and typing service, some of them generate good enough money that not only they bought larger printer to cater to the demand, but a printing machine large enough very much like the one that we would only found in some office.

How large? Pretty much like the image on your left (or above, depending on device that you use to read this article). And no, those students didn’t put it at some rental house or office outside but rather inside their own university apartment hostel a.k.a within the university’s own compound! It was illegal (I think), but we would only be found guilty if we got caught, right? And no, this was not a rumours. I saw the machine myself. Just don’t ask how they managed to smuggle and drag that machine into their room located at the fourth floor (a.k.a top floor) of the building. And no, it’s a walk-up building, so it has no elevator whatsoever. Maybe some of them were descendants of Hercules.

Legality of such endeavour aside, I guess this is a good example of “where there’s a will, there’s a way”.

As for those who offered a car rental and transportation service, I guess they were doing pretty good too. But not too great that some of them managed to convert their small, micro-sized sedan into a full-size SUV or started a rental car companies like Hertz or Avis. But the demand for their vehicle was enough for its owners to cover the operating expenses, plus a good cup of latte.

And that was before the age of Uber, Grab and other kind of gig economy that we currently have in 2018.


Why Students Should Embrace Gig Economy

The gig economy was not something new to students, as mentioned earlier. Only back then, we didn’t have any kind of smartphones or apps like Uber or Upwork. And the service coverage was, well, limited within the university itself and its population.

However, it was relatively easy and cheap to start as no incorporation of company needed, no revenues to be declared and obviously no tax to be paid. Legality aside, it was a good training ground for students to prepare for their future. For instance, for marketing or business administrations students, instead of attending classes and staring on their books day in and day out, they could actually run the actual marketing strategy and the business, relying less on whatever theories and jump into the practicality and challenges of running a business.

And why gig economy?

Short answer? We live in 2018, not 1998. There are things called smartphones and apps.

Long answer? Gig economy is one of the easiest (if not the easiest) for students to dip their toe into running a business and train themselves to become an entrepreneur, and at relatively small amount of money. The asset that they need the most would be a smartphone, which the price keep getting lower and lower. Then depending on the services that they’re going to offer, they can start it immediately. And it’s up to their creativity on how to market themselves (and their services) to their colleagues. They would also learn on how to maintain a quality work results and great customer service, as failure to do so will become a huge gossips throughout the campus for the next few years.


Why Should Educational Institutions Adapt

I didn’t mean to undermine any lecturers as I also still have few friends working as teachers and lecturers themselves. I still even maintained a good friendship with few of my former lecturers during my time in university and even my teachers during high school. So I have huge respects for them. But the truth is, how many tutors or lecturers, especially the one who taught subjects like business and marketing, ran a business before they become a lecturer?

I remember when I was in university, there was one subject called Advanced Telecommunications, where the lecturer was an outsider. He was a senior telecommunications engineer by day and a lecturer by night. How’s my learning experience like? I can say that his experience taught us invaluable inputs, as his knowledge was not limited to things written and printed on a textbook. In fact, it was very rare for us to open the recommended textbooks as he teaches us straight from his brain, using his own real-life experience and explains quite a number of nuances and nitty-gritty details of telecommunications and its industry. And he even taught us how to present our business ideas clearly and how to convince technical and non-technical people about our ideas.

Fun fact: My presentation was a service of calling a taxicab using an SMS. If I actually pursue it back then, I could be Travis Kalanick (hopefully without any of his controversial remarks or actions).

And another friend of mine is a HR lecturer at a college for almost ten years (if I remember correctly), yet she never even worked with any company before, let alone in HR department. Even she admitted to me that most of her knowledge was either a theory or things written in the textbook. Basically she just pursued her master’s degree and become a lecturer ever since she graduated.*

So it’s clear that although educational institutions and its lecturers have a good intention to share their knowledge with their students, the fact remains that there are things that those lecturers can’t teach the students themselves. And I dare say a lot of it because they don’t have relevant knowledge and experience. It’s very much like asking a marriage advise from a non-married or single person. And if the lecturers lacked any business or industrial knowledge and experience, what should the students do?

So it’s up to students to gain that knowledge and experience themselves. And the gig economy could be one of the way to get those knowledge and experience while getting some (possibly serious) money. And compared with my own experience working at a fast-food outlet, gig economy would provide even a better choice for students due to time flexibility. After all, I can’t ask my fast-food manager what time they should let me start my shift and what time they should open and close the outlet. But those in gig economy can decide what day and time they want to be in and what day they think it’s better to concentrate on classes and assignments.

Yes, there could and would be a case where some students neglects their own classes and assignments due to heavy attention to their current gig. It’s impossible to expect everyone would be disciplined enough to manage their time properly. Guidelines should be there to advise students like how many hours they should be in the gig on a weekly or monthly basis, so as not too interfere too much with their studies. But to look from the other perspective, this is also a good time for both educational institutions and students to see who among them can manage their time effectively. If they can manage their time properly as a student, it would be a good reference and example for their future employers or customers (if the students start their own business after graduation) and it shows that he or she is committed to their tasks and know how to allocate their time accordingly.


Why Parents Should Look At Gig Economy As Part Of Education Process

I remember the time when I told my parents that I want to work at some fast-food store while still in college. Their concern? Whether it would negatively affect my study (and sleeping pattern). The answer was yes, it negatively affect my study a bit and definitely affect my sleeping pattern. But in return, I gained something more valuable.

I learnt how to appreciate time and money and how to deal with people. Something rarely taught in the classroom or textbooks.

Education is no longer about how many classes students attended (and failed to show up), how many A’s they get for particular semester or what’s their final CGPA points. How many examples we have seen that a dean’s list students failed to shine in their real life because of lack of practical knowledge? How many of them graduated in bachelor or master’s degree in business or marketing but failed to sell even a single thing when they worked in business development or marketing department in some company?

I don’t blame parents for getting a cold feet when their kids wanted to join gig economy while studying. They only wants the best for their children, and that includes undivided attention to their study. But as we move forward towards the future of automation and economic uncertainty, perhaps it’s best to let their children take small risks now which may paid off in future by starting their own business or understanding human behaviour and psychology when they need to do their job, something that AI and Big Data yet to handle and understand.

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” —Mark Zuckerberg.

The gig economy is here to stay. So might as well people take advantage of it including students. After all, if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them.


* Please don’t call me gender bias or sexist just because of those examples. My intention is to highlight the real-life experience vs textbook knowledge, not trying to stoke any cynical feelings toward any particular gender. 

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