How To Survive In The ‘Gig Economy’

Temple University’s Fox School of Business in Philadelphia is another school working to help students at both the B-school and the wider university become savvy about launching a career as a “gigger,” and understand how they can succeed in that role, says Alan Kerzner, director of Temple University’s Entrepreneurship Academy (TUEA), which is incorporating entrepreneurship curriculum into all of Temple’s 17 schools and colleges.

For example, the Fox School introduced a new minor in management consulting for undergraduate business students last semester because they anticipate that a growing number of large companies will start hiring more freelance consultants as they need specific expertise for projects or as workload at the company ebbs and flows, Kerzner says. As part of the new consulting minor, the Fox School has brought in alumni speakers who used to work at traditional companies but have since built successful independent consulting practices; all of the classes are taught by current or former consultants.

The school is also working with career services on a variety of “freelancer workshop” series that help undergraduate students get the training they need if they set out on their own after graduation, whether they are artists, journalists or business students. Students at the university can also get a Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management, which helps them learn how to create alternate entrepreneurial career paths and become out-of-the-box thinkers

“Students are now beginning to consider a freelance career as a legitimate career choice. But they need to understand that they are a brand, they are running a business and the business is themselves,” says Kerzner, who also serves as professor of strategic management at the Fox School. “You can say you want to be a freelancer or a member of the gig economy, but the key is how do you stand out and get chosen when you are competing with hundreds or thousands of other freelancers and gig folks competing for these same assignments.”

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Temple’s Alan Kerzner

Tomi A. Jones, a senior majoring in international business at the Fox School, could be a poster child for the gig economy movement. She has worked as an influencer and content producer for companies looking to market new products, bring them to concept and connect with Millenials. She also runs her own YouTube channel that has grown to 90,000 subscribers in less than a year, and she works as a production assistant in the film industry and consults with design firms in the Philadelphia region and in Virginia. Those gigs helped her pay off her last year of business school, she says.

Jones’ latest venture? A startup called Straight Air that claims to prevent hair loss using a styling tool that uses heat mapping technology. Jones has been working closely with Temple’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship on launching the business, she says, and professors have given her ideas on how to launch the business and distinguish herself in a crowded freelance marketplace.

“Gigging has been a way for me to survive,” she says. “You have to invest in yourself, produce your own content that is taken seriously and have it be known that you are a self-starter. You can’t be one thing and you can’t wear one hat. You have to do it all.”

With more students like Jones emerging on college campuses and at MBA programs in recent years, Babson’s Mulcahy was hopeful that the publication of her book, which has a special guide for educators in the back, would spur more business programs to create similar “gig economy” electives at their school. But so far, she is not aware of another MBA program offering a similar class, she says, and offerings remain slim on the undergraduate front as well.

“Shockingly, business schools are not really responding to this change in the economy and both undergraduate and MBA programs are not preparing their students to succeed in it,” Mulcahy says. “Business schools should be out in front of it, but instead they are standing still.”

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