Working multiple part time jobs, or operating freelance, as a contractor or on short term contracts might have once been a choice for the desperate. Necessity being the mother of invention, when jobs are hard to come by, turning your hand to new skills and a series of smaller jobs to earn an income has always been a possibility.
But things have changed dramatically when it comes to choosing part time roles, with an increasing number of people going this route out of preference rather than a last resort choice. In the UK, 8.27 million people worked in part time jobs in August 2015, close to a quarter of all people in employment. While some of these will be individuals working part time to manage personal, study and family commitments, or because of a lack of availability of full-time employment options, many will be part time ’portfolio’ career workers through active choice, taking several part time jobs in preference to a full time position.
Say hello to the gig economy
This shift in working style has led to the appearance of a new phrase - the 'gig economy'. Like gigging musicians, workers in many fields are picking up the odd chunk of work here and there until it mounts up to enough to pay the bills, giving freedom and flexibility above that of a traditional career.
Several things have happened to enable the rise of this ’gig economy’, and our increasing interest in ’portfolio careers’ .
Tech now allows hiring managers to easily find the freelance or short term talent they need. As many firms desire a flexible workforce, either due to growth seasonal workloads, or because of a project based operating system, there has been an uplift in the number of small contract roles available for specialists of all kinds.
Simultaneously changes in culture mean that younger people are rejecting the stability that their parents so craved, in favour of jobs with flexibility and meaning, and a better work life balance. Research shows that millennials look for these things above a simple pay check, fuelling the change as talented individuals put their skills up for hire in part time positions across the world.
The result of these relatively swift changes is a ’gig’ economy, which sees individuals working in a series of smaller ’gigs’ which they choose on a more flexible basis, rather than one 9 to 5 job. You might drive for Uber in the evenings, sell through Etsy to satisfy your passion, and work as a freelance graphic designer Monday through Friday, choosing hours to suit you. Or maybe, you teach, write and play music to a variety of students in a number of different locations on a flexible basis, making up your weekly working hours to fit your other commitments.
The development of a ’portfolio’ lifestyle, in which you earn your living from a series of smaller sources of income, is a dream for many. But is it really better to have several part time jobs instead of one solid source of income?
Part-time job win the day
It’s hard to figure out how many people currently draw their income from a series of smaller jobs rather than one full time role. In the US, estimates range from official census statistics showing around 6.5 percent of people working on a freelance basis, to tax return details which reveal that up to 20 percent of people have some form of secondary freelance income to more bullish estimates that propose the numbers are rising so swiftly that by 2020, some 40 percent of workers will be freelancers, active in the so called ’gig economy’.
So let’s assume for the sake of argument that working multiple part time jobs is an increasing phenomenon. What’s the attraction?
The main attraction for most ’portfolio’ workers is flexibility. Working a series of smaller gigs allows for diversified work which can make life both more interesting, and actually improve your employment stability. As a portfolio worker you are likely to be able to learn a broader skill base - which means you can pick up differing types of work depending on the need and your availability. If you’re quick on your feet, and gather up new skills before they become mainstream, then you have the opportunity to carve out an impressive career as a specialist - a relatively secure path if you choose a growing niche.
This approach can be especially useful if you want to set up business on your own - and the dream for many millennials is not to disappear into a corporate machine but to create something for themselves - to launch a startup, run their own business, follow their dream and give something back.
Perhaps the overarching attraction to this flexible, part time working style, is the control it gives you. Very few of us want to be a small fish in a big corporate pond, unrecognised and unable to truly make a difference in the world. The ’cubicle’ image of employment is hardly aspirational - and for people with high risk tolerance and some skills under their belt, a part time working life can be a great bet.
Full-time all the way
Of course, there are many who would point to the stratospheric failure rates of young startups as evidence that trying to live the dream is, well, just a dream. So maybe for those of us who have our feet more planted on the ground, a full time job is the way forward?
There are a number of reasons that working a series of part time jobs might not work out too well for the individual employee. For example, multiple part time jobs can make juggling competing demands difficult. What if you are asked to work overtime in one role which eats into the time you have available to complete another? And what about benefits like a company pension, redundancy protection or medical insurance? In the end, the employee themselves might finish up responsible for putting protections in place for themselves, and bear the brunt if things go pear shaped. This problem is sufficiently high profile that it has been discussed by Hilary Clinton as part of her US Presidential campaign.
Whether or not a part time career platform will work for you depends a lot on your aspirations. Moving into a management role in any sort of traditional company structure is difficult in a part time position - so you might be condemning yourself to a career of working for others. Similarly, if your work gives you social fulfilment, then a full time job might give you a better chance to be part of something, make better friends and form part of a group that go beyond roles as colleagues and become friends.
For employers too, there are issues with the growth of the ’gig economy’. The full time, career ladder model worked for a reason. Individual employees had an opportunity to grow in a business, developing personally and professionally. Creating a coherent company culture when the company is dispersed and made up of a shifting group of freelance or part time workers is very hard - a massive problem in industries relying on customer relationships, and a reason for organisations to seek to limit the number of part time employees they take on.
Of course it’s not as simple as one model of employment being better than another. A monotonous job with an ungrateful boss in a toxic business culture is not made any the better for being either part or full time in structure. Part time roles will work well for some people, especially those who work in creative fields and do not wish to climb a traditional career ladder to management.
If you can carve out a niche for yourself as a specialist working on a freelance or part time basis in a segment you enjoy then a part time ’portfolio career’ could be a marvellous way to earn your income, fulfil your creative aspirations and maintain the freedom to work in the way that suits you best. But it is not without risks. As the ’gig economy’ is so new, there are many unknowns around security and protection for workers. Whether or not the potential benefits from multiple part time jobs will outweigh the known and unknown issues that come with this lifestyle is a matter of individual choice. If one thing looks certain, though, it’s that this is a working model that is here to stay, and the pioneers already in the ’gig economy’ will pave the way - with both their successes and failures - for many more of us in future.