The price of freedom for freelancers

A 'portfolio approach' to jobs is making more employees consider freelance life as a long term proposition. CREDIT:LINDSEY THOMAS

To all the freelancers: would you give up self-employment for a full-time corporate job that offers greater security? A change that trades the autonomy and lifestyle of freelance work for the regular pay, benefits and interaction of an office job.

I would struggle with it. Having been self-employed for 12 years I cannot imagine commuting to and from work, taking instructions from a boss, wasting time in unnecessary meetings, being stressed by company politics or sitting at a cubicle all day. Or sacrificing income and relying on one employer to put food on the table, in a ruthless jobs market.

A 'portfolio approach' to jobs is making more employees consider freelance life as a long term proposition.
A ‘portfolio approach’ to jobs is making more employees consider freelance life as a long term proposition. CREDIT:LINDSEY THOMAS

I’m not alone. About half of freelancers surveyed in the latest Freelancing in America Report said there is “no amount of money where they would take a traditional job”.

For the first time, as many survey respondents viewed freelancing as a long-term career choice, not a temporary way to make money.

Technology is making it easier for freelancers to find work, and the gig economy, despite its faults, is encouraging a portfolio, project-based approach to jobs.

For context, an estimated 57 million people freelance in the United States, or just over a third of the country’s workforce, and half of them believe they will never return to a traditional job.

Yes, extrapolating survey results can be dangerous. Released this month, the Freelancing in America Report 2019 surveyed 6001 US adults. It broadly defines freelancers as people who have engaged in supplemental, project-based or contract-based work within the past 12 months. The data picks up freelancers, independent contractors, “moonlighters” such a food couriers, and “job hustlers”, those people in full-time work who have a part-time gig on the side.

My guess is the online sample attracted many successful freelancers, skewing the results and positivity. There are downsides with freelancing: no leave entitlements, lack of professional development, isolation and clients who take forever to pay.

Also, the finding that “no amount of money” would entice half of US freelancers to return to a corporate job is curious. Everybody has their price and I’m sure many would jump at an office job that doubled or tripled their income even if they missed the freelance lifestyle.

I doubt the US finding would be anywhere near as strong here. There is scant data on Australia’s gig economy and freelancer estimates vary. The Future of Work in Australia report in 2018 estimated just under 10 per cent of Australian workers have multiple jobs (excluding independent contractors who have one job) and that the figure has been steady for years.

Talk about the gig economy boom in Australian is arguably overstated, although numbers and growth are much higher if independent contractors are added in the mix.

Caveats aside, the US report has several implications.

First, freelancers will become a larger part of the global workforce in the next decade. More part-timers are moving to full-time freelance work and freelancers contribute nearly $US1 trillion to the US economy.

Second, there is growing anti-corporate sentiment among freelancers. When half of US freelancers say they would never return to a traditional corporate work, you know something is wrong with the job design, corporate culture and how companies treat staff.

Third, industry will struggle to attract talent from a large and growing pool of freelancers in coming decades as skills shortages intensify. Companies will need to replace retiring baby boomers but more people will work for themselves and be reluctant to return to a traditional job. The gig economy that helped corporates lower costs could come back to bite them.

When half of US freelancers say they would never return to a traditional corporate work, you know something is wrong…

Fourth, governments worldwide are off the pace in the gig economy. Scant thought has been given to how freelancers and other self-employed people are protected, encouraged and developed, or to the infrastructure needed for an army of freelancer workers. More councils launching co-working facilities in the suburbs and regional areas would be a good start.

How can new regulations help freelancers flourish and ensure the gig economy does not become a sewer of freelancer exploitation by big business? For example, moonlighters in the on-demand economy – food couriers are particularly vulnerable. Left unchecked, the gig economy is an avenue to bring developing-nation-like wages and conditions to parts of our workforce.

Universities and vocational training colleges are also lagging in the gig economy. What is their role in helping people develop specialist freelance skills and encouraging them to engage in lifelong learning and professional development? Too much university education is still geared towards corporate work.

How are service providers responding to the freelance boom? When will it be easier for freelancers to borrow money from banks or rent a property for a home-based business, or get cheaper legal and accounting advice or insurance?

How does being a freelancer affect your chances of getting a loan?

And what of the societal implications of the freelancing boom and gig economy? For every successful micro-venture, many more struggle. Also, as the supply of freelancers grows worldwide, their income and conditions will inevitably stagnate – a trend well underway in some knowledge-based jobs. Then there are potential health issues as more people work on their own and lose the benefits of office interaction and colleague support.

Thankfully, Australia seems a long way behind the US in the freelancer stakes (depending on how it is defined). Yet the trend is heading in one direction: more people leaving traditional jobs for self-employment and having a portfolio of project-based work.

‘Dead-end job’: Trucking sector demands training overhaul

Governments are looking for the right way to pay for catch-up infrastructure.

Small businesses in Australia’s trucking industry say the sector is struggling due to a poor reputation and difficulty recruiting experienced drivers into what many wrongly view as a “dead-end job”.

A senate committee is investigating the viability, safety and sustainability of the nation’s road transport sector, including a focus on how the sector will respond to the growth of global retail logistics giants and their delivery networks.

Governments are looking for the right way to pay for catch-up infrastructure.
Governments are looking for the right way to pay for catch-up infrastructure. CREDIT:ANDREW QUILTY

The Transport Workers Union is yet to make its submission but national secretary Michael Kaine said it would demand an increase in standards and safety at a time when the margins of smaller businesses were being squeezed, particularly as global delivery giants like Amazon expanded in Australia.

“Our submission will focus on lifting standards so we can save businesses, jobs and lives in our industry. The crisis needs to be addressed urgently: transport workers have by far the highest number of deaths for any industry while all road users are at risk because of the high proportion of people dying in truck crashes. Businesses are going bust every month,” he said.

Early submissions from business owners highlighted fundamental problems with training and recruitment in the sector, with no standard pathways to enter the sector.

Drivers require trucking licences according to state and vehicle requirements though there is currently no standard qualification beyond this to enter the industry.

“The fact that the industry is held in such low regard and dare I say ‘contempt’ by so many within society is disheartening,” chief executive of refrigerated transport company South West Express Mark Mazza said in his submission.

The fact that the industry is held in such low regard and dare I say ‘contempt’ by so many within society is disheartening.

South West Express chief executive, Mark Mazza

“Let’s face it, the industry is seen by many to be a dead-end job.”

Mr Mazza told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age policymakers did not appreciate that the transport industry required highly skilled drivers with training beyond the operation of heavy vehicles.

“The biggest single issue is that there is a disconnect between the education system into our industry… There’s no standard regarding procedures and skill set, it’s a workplace-by-workplace shemozzle,” he said.

TWU secretary Michael Kaine said raising standards would be the focus of the union's submission on the future of the road transport sector.
TWU secretary Michael Kaine said raising standards would be the focus of the union’s submission on the future of the road transport sector. CREDIT:PAUL BRAVEN

The number of Australians working in Australia’s trucking industry is set to grow from 209,000 to 223,000 over the next five years, according to the Department of Jobs and Small Business.

The sector has a large proportion of older workers with the average age of an Australian truck driver 47 years old, and more than half the driving population is over 45.

The federal government has a number of roads initiatives including its Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program however this is focused on road and infrastructure improvements for safety, rather than driver training.

Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack was contacted for comment.

Other operators pointed to the overall low reputation of the sector as a barrier to attracting new talent.

“If the public starts viewing the Transport Industry as a fabulous and an essential part of society needs, it will then be more accepted on our roads and also as a chosen career path for future employment,” director of Dubbo business Tippings Transport, Sally Tipping wrote in her submission.

The inquiry is accepting submissions until October 17 with a plan to report to the government by April 2020.


PM employs Scott Cam to create blue-collar jobs, but Morrison keeps defunding TAFE

PM employs Scott Cam to create blue-collar jobs, but Morrison keeps defunding TAFE

Scott Morrison employing a television tradie is already crazy, but if you consider the repeated cuts to the TAFE system, it’s borderline insane.

For reasons I’m not entirely sure, Australia is in the business of giving celebrities governmental positions. In a move that’s dangerously close to satire/utter numbness, Scott Morrison has employed television tradie Scott Cam of The Block fame.

“I want to see more Australians become plumbers, electricians and bakers than lawyers and consultants. I would like to see more of them going on to become their own boss,” Morrison said on Thursday.

“Scott Cam is proof that undertaking a trade can be a very valuable, rewarding and successful career choice, and there are plenty more who can tell a similar story to Scott…by learning a trade you’ll earn more, your skills will be in demand and you’ll help build our country and keep our economy strong,” he continued.

Per The New Daily, “Employment and Skills Minister Michaelia Cash said vocational education and training was key to building Australia’s future workforce. She said Mr Cam would help Australians at ‘all ages and stages’ to make informed decisions about learning, training and work. ‘Working with the National Careers Institute, Scott will make sure individuals and businesses can take advantage of the pathways on offer,’ she said.”

There’s just a rather large elephant in the room. If Morrison wants to steer the nation away from university types (which is another discussion) and into blue-collar work, he should focus on the tried-and-tested TAFE route, right?

No. You see, his party (particularly his predecessor) has cannibalised the system, introducing $1.9 billion in cuts.

According to the Australian Education Union (AEU) Federal TAFE Secretary Pat Forward in 2018, the entire system is at risk.

“Government funding cuts have left the TAFE sector perilously close to collapse,” Ms Forward said.

“Under the Turnbull government, funding has been slashed and support for the system has collapsed.”

“The TAFE and vocational education system remains the worst-funded education sector in the country, with funding having been cut by more than 15% between 2007 and 2016,” Ms Forward said.

“The damage inflicted on the sector, particularly as a result of underfunding and attempts to privatise, has eroded the viability of colleges and undermined confidence in the system,” Ms Forward said.

“More people have been through TAFE and vocational training than have attended university in Australia,” Ms Forward said.

“The TAFE sector is responsible for providing vocational education to some of the most important professions in the country, including nurses, child-care workers, hairdressers, aged care and disability workers and electricians.”

“Unless governments address the crisis in the TAFE and vocational education sector as a matter of urgency, the consequences for society and the economy – and for the next generation of young people – will be dire,” Ms Forward said.

In the recent budget, no new funding for TAFE was announced by the Morrison government, with Australian Education Union (AEU) Federal President Correna Haythorpe noting that “…there is no additional specified funding for TAFE in the budget. What we have is a sleight of hand by the Morrison government with the majority of the $525 million actually being repurposed money.”

“This is a budget which fails to give a fair go to TAFE. It will deny many thousands of Australians the opportunity to build the skills they need for the careers they want…this funding is essentially a repackaging of the Skilling Australians Fund. In reality, there is just $55 million of new money for vocational education over five years,” she said.

If the Michaelia Cash and Scott Morrison believe that the future of our workforce is vocational training, then why are the cutting off the only meaningful supplier of it?


First National Careers Ambassador Announced by Australian PM

The PM’s recent announcement of Scott Cam as the first National Careers Ambassador has sparked much furore within the VET sector. This initiative comes off the back of the coalition’s governments’ establishment of a National Career Institute in July.

Read articles here:


Why Skills Training Can’t Replace Higher Education


Much of the current media-reported posturing by policy makers and pundits about the failure of U.S. colleges and universities to adequately prepare people for the 21st workplace is either ill informed or misguided, in my opinion.

One of the dominant narratives in the media is that we need to produce more workers now who can do whatever is needed now, using short-term postsecondary certification programsThe focus is typically on “vocational” skills, contrasted with what too often are characterized as relatively useless liberal education outcomes, including knowledge of world history and cultures and other “indulgences” such as crafting understandable prose and judging the veracity and utility of information.

To make it easier for employers to identify competent workers, a litany of badges, certificates, and the like will purportedly signal proficiency. In some yet-to-be-demonstrated manner, these proxies will then be stacked and sewn together by a trusted entity to warrant conferral of what traditionally has been considered a college degree. Along the way, it’s assumed that learners of any age will independently bring coherence to and cultivate depth of understanding from these various experiences.

Another narrative is framed by a chorus of CEOs and managers who bemoan that too many job applicants with associate and baccalaureate degrees cannot write coherent paragraphs, clearly explain complex problems, or work effectively with people who differ from themselves. And this is after several years of postsecondary study, not the few weeks or months needed to earn a badge.  At the same time, many business leaders say that they prefer candidates who not only can do today’s work, but who will be able to continue to learn on their own in real time to do tomorrow’s work — jobs that have not yet been invented. Is there a badge or certificate to certify skills for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet?!

Of course, short-term vocational skills-based programs are critically important and well suited for many people. This has always been true and will continue to be so. But is this an acceptable policy choice for addressing the demands of the 21st century workplace and fixing the shortcomings of American higher education at this point?

No, and here’s why.

We’ve known for many decades that there are no short cuts to cultivating the habits of the mind and heart that, over time, enable people to deepen their learning, develop resilience, transfer information into action, and creatively juggle and evaluate competing ideas and approaches. These are the kinds of proficiencies and dispositions needed to discover alternative responses to challenges presented by the changing nature of today’s jobs or for work not yet invented. Workplaces, societal institutions, and the world order are only going to get more complicated and challenging to navigate and manage, increasing the need for people with accumulated wisdom, interpersonal and practical competence, and more than a splash of critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and altruism.

Intentionally shortening and fragmenting educational and personal development in the name of bolstering economic productivity now is shortsighted and does a catastrophic disservice to individuals, our national prosperity, and the long-term well-being of a civil, democratic society. What’s also troubling is the likelihood that learners from historically underserved groups — low income and ethnic minorities, for example — will be disproportionately represented among (or maybe even tracked into) short-term training programs. Students from these groups made up the majority of those who were duped by the misleading ROI promises of more than a few costly for-profit institutions, such as Corinthian CollegesITT Technical Institutes, and Education Corporation for America.

There is no way to know for sure, but I suspect that many of those vigorously proposing short term vocational education steer their own children toward baccalaureate-granting colleges or universities. Attending such schools increases the odds that students will have to broaden their perspectives, read and write a fair amount, and devote significant effort over an extended period of time pondering difficult questions and generating alternative solutions to complicated problems — the stuff of which the future will be made.

We need business leaders to speak often and consistently with one voice about the perils of trying to do too much too fast on the cheap in education. The discourse about what the country needs from its postsecondary system needs re-balancing and grounding in what clear-minded captains of industry have learned from experience and what the educational research shows matters to preparing people for a self-sufficient, civically responsible, and personally satisfying life.

Granted, there is much room for improvement in American higher education. However, when a college or university intentionally designs and induces students to participate in high-impact learning activities inside and outside the classroom, the outcomes are much better contrasted with students who do not have such experiences. The benefits of participating in high-impact practices such as writing intensive courses, undergraduate research, community service projects and internships are especially promising for historically underserved students who will make up a large fraction of tomorrow’s workers and community leaders. Unfortunately, too few students participate in these activities, a problem that institutions such as California State University Dominguez Hills, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Springfield College and many others are addressing by modifying curricular offerings to require students to do them.

Abbreviating postsecondary preparation programs may well reduce short-term costs for students, institutions, and many employers. However, privileging short-term job training over demanding educational experiences associated with high-levels of intellectual, personal, and social development — a foundation for continuous life-long learning — is a bad idea for individuals, for the long-term vitality of the American economy, and for our democracy.

Trashed visa system fuels human trafficking, exploitation and slavery

Department of Home Affairs officials have confirmed that around 95,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Australia by plane over the past five years, which Labor claims is fuelling “exploitation and slavery”:

The figures were disclosed in answers to Questions on Notice from Labor’s spokesperson for Home Affairs and Immigration Kristina Keneally.

“There’s nothing wrong with claiming asylum. It’s an important right,” Senator Keneally said.

“However, in 90 per cent of these particular cases, the individuals are not legitimate refugees and are often being trafficked to Australia for the explicit purpose of being exploited”…

Labor is warning Australia is on track to post a new annual record for asylum seeker arrivals by air.

It said 4,037 aeroplane arrivals have made a claim for protection between 1 July 2019 and 19 August 2019…

Senator Keneally has called the figures a crisis, citing concerns for those arriving by plane being exposed to “exploitation, slavery and even sexual servitude across the country”…

“The truth is we have no idea how many aeroplane people may have been critically injured or even died … because of exploitation and slavery that is taking place under his nose”…

Its chair Liberal MP Jason Wood issued a warning over criminal syndicates exploiting vulnerable arrivals.

“Organised crime and illegitimate labour-hire companies are using this loophole to bring out illegal workers who are often vulnerable and open to exploitation,” he said.

“This enables these criminal elements to exploit foreign workers in Australia until their claims are finalised.”

John Coyne, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s head of border security, recently raised similar concerns:

“Organised crime are indeed facilitating unlawful migration on a fee-for-service basis, using methodologies from fake identity documents, to gaming Australia’s visa system”…

“Australia’s border security arrangements are being exploited, and individuals who have not been appropriately identified are at times entering the country”.

“The Australian black economy is indeed being supported by organised crime, who along with businesses involved, are using these methods to exploit workers, and those involved are not paying taxes and are often remitting their salaries out of the country”…

The best graphical illustration of the rise in ‘plane people’ entering Australia is the explosion in Bridging Visas, which are typically handed to migrants awaiting decisions on permanent residency through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT):

As shown above, the number of Bridging visas on issue has roughly doubled since the Coalition was elected in 2013, numbering 205,000 as at June 2019.

Back in July, former High Court Justice, Ian Callinan claimed that the AAT has been inundated with spurious asylum seeker claims, fuelled in part by organised criminals:

[Ian Callinan] said “almost everyone” with migration law experience had told him there were applic­ants and representatives who “game the system, well knowing there is an automatic entitlement to a bridging visa”.

The Australian Skills Quality Authority told Mr Callinan that delays had repercussions beyond the AAT. It told him it was aware that organised crimin­als were sometimes, “perhaps even regularly”, benefiting from fake vocational training prog­rams or “ghost’’ colleges…

The AAT now handles about 59,000 lodgements a year: more than half (52 per cent) are migra­tion and refugee cases…

The AAT’s caseload of migra­tion and refugee matters doubled in the two years to June 30 last year…

Thus, while the Coalition pretends that it is strong on border control because it has “stopped the boats”, bogus asylum seekers are pouring into Australia via plane.

However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The reality is that Australia’s borders have become increasingly porous, with visa scamming occurring through a variety of channels, including:

  • Migrants arriving by plane lodging bogus asylum applications;
  • International students undertaking spurious courses for working rights and subsequent permanent residency;
  • Illegal labour hire firms, people smugglers and criminal syndicates facilitating undocumented migrants to work for below market rates; and
  • Businesses using pretend ‘skills shortages’ to hire temporary migrant workers at below market rates.

The visa rorting is systemic and has permeated across the entire Australian economy.

And now we’re going to privatise it?