Think about how old you were when you were first introduced to the concept of freelancing compared to when you actually became one. Had you learned about it earlier, would it have made a difference in your career trajectory?
The reality is that most of us, as youth, were not exposed to professional freelancing unless someone in our family freelanced and even then, it may have been a casual association or a superficial understanding.
Today’s K-12 schools still focus on a traditional curriculum with an emphasis on core subjects like English, history, science, and math. The mission for many of our public schools, in particular, revolves around the mantra of college and career readiness. For students who are on the career readiness track, the emphasis is often preparation for working for someone else. And therein lies the problem.
This begs the question: How should professional freelancing fall into conversations about viable career options for young people?
Honestly, it usually doesn’t, but it must now.
Some schools are starting to offer courses in entrepreneurship and some vocational schools train students in trades that can translate into freelancing opportunities. But most students are not exposed to how freelancing works or why they may want to consider it.
One of the reasons why professional freelancing is often shrouded in a cloak of mystery is simply because many of us don’t really know enough about it to understand it. In turn, the mystery continues, as young people are not taught about it in traditional classroom spaces. My solution: Let’s take the classroom to them.
Think about it. Many young people have experienced some form of freelancing; they just don’t call it that.
Let me explain. Babysitting, tutoring, pet sitting, snow shoveling and grass cutting are just a few of the traditional ways that young people get an early taste of freelancing. Today, they can even use online platforms like Etsy, Shopify, and Zibbet to sell their hand made wares and crafts. (If they’re under the age of 18, they will need parental permission or help).
This may seem like child’s play, but think about what these types of freelancing gigs teach young people about running a sustainable business. One must have a product or service that others need; one must market and/or advertise to establish a brand; and one must offer phenomenal customer service that is aligned with the brand. Sound familiar?
Getting an early taste of freelancing also equips them to understand the importance of having a marketable skill, how to work with diverse clients, how to offer a fee-for-service or product, and how to be competitive in the free market.
These are life-long skills lessons that will position young people for creating their own definition of professional success that goes far beyond worker/boss or employer/employee paradigms.
This is particularly important because, as many economists have predicted, future job trends are leaning more toward freelancers, independent contractors, and consultants. Simply put, there will be a demand for people who want to, and can, fulfill those positions.
If young people don’t even know that these opportunities exist then they can’t prepare accordingly.
I don’t know if any of my young, high school mentees will become freelancers, but I truly hope that they, and children like them, are exposed to freelancing as a rewarding and satisfying career pathway.
With our current educational trends, schools will probably not turn this corner with us, so that leaves it up to us freelancers to think outside of the box and to think about grassroots endeavors that we can create to expose young people to freelancing as a career of choice.