Are Millennials failing to develop important work skills?

Executive Summary

Many Millennials are gravitating toward the gig economy of temporary and freelance jobs, enabled to do so by the rise of sharing-economy companies such as Uber and the advent of powerful social media. Many who have taken this route say they enjoy being untethered from the traditional workplace and have little interest in permanent full-time jobs. Some observers say the 2007–09 recession and the soft economy that followed have pushed Millennials in this direction. Whether because of choice or necessity, the increasing prevalence of gig work raises the question of whether these younger workers are failing to learn the communications, leadership and teamwork skills that come from functioning in a more conventional work setting.

Some key takeaways:

  • The number of those working in the gig economy increased 60 percent between 1997 and 2014.

  • Millennials who expect to leave their jobs within two years exceed those who plan to stay for at least five years.

  • A wealth of social media apps and websites has sprung up to facilitate life in the gig economy.

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Resources for Further Study



Ferriss, Timothy, “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich,” Crown Publishing Group, 2007. An entrepreneur shares tips and tricks for people to make money while working independently.

Schwartz, Morissa, “The Gig Economy: Your Road to Financial Freedom,” GenZ Publishing, 2016. A full-time independent contractor explains how Millennials can thrive in the freelance economy.


Hook, Leslie, “Year in a word: Gig economy,” Financial Times, Dec. 29, 2015, The business publication recognizes and explores freelancers’ impact on the new economy.

Scheiber, Noam, “How Uber Uses Psychological Tricks to Push Its Drivers’ Buttons,” The New York Times, April 2, 2017, A reporter investigates potentially deceptive practices by one of the largest gig economy platforms.

Tolentino, Jia, “The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself to Death,” The New Yorker, March 22, 2017, A writer argues that the new freelance economy exploits the young and the desperate.

Reports and Studies

“The 2017 BridgeWorks 3G Report,” BridgeWorks, 2017, The workplace consulting firm discusses how multiple generations can prosper in organizations.

“The 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey – Apprehensive millennials: seeking stability and opportunities in an uncertain world,” Deloitte, 2017, Analyzing results from a workplace study, the international consultancy reports that Millennials in developing countries are pessimistic about their future.

“America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2011,” Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, Fertility & Family Statistics Branch, U.S. Census Bureau, 2011, The U.S. Census Bureau presents its annual study on family cohabitation in the United States, reflecting the higher number of Millennials staying at or returning to their parents’ home.

“Unemployment Rate,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017, The federal government agency tracks unemployment data from the past decade.

Hathaway, Ian, and Mark Muro, “Tracking the gig economy: New numbers,” Brookings Institution, Oct. 13, 2016, A public policy organization examines the growing gig economy.

The Next Step

Gig Economy Globally

D’Cunha, Suparna Dutt, “Why the Gig Economy Could Reinvent the UAE Workplace for the Better,” Forbes, June 9, 2017, The United Arab Emirates’ expanding and diversifying economy could generate a gig economy because of the country’s massive infrastructure and energy projects. Such projects need highly skilled independent contractors, and new service-based apps have helped introduce the sharing economy concept to the region.

Lowrey, Annie, “What the Gig Economy Looks Like Around the World,” The Atlantic, April 13, 2017, A three-year study of workers in the online gig economy in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia by researchers at the University of Oxford and the University of Pretoria finds patterns, both positive and negative, that resemble the situation in the United States.

Price, Rob, “Sleepless nights and hospital runs: The struggles of parenthood in the gig economy,” Business Insider, June 6, 2017, Three couriers and an Uber driver in the United Kingdom share stories of taking care of their families while working in the gig economy. While some would like benefits and possible recognition as full-time employees, others do not want to compromise the freedom their jobs afford.

Protections for Gig Workers

Gutman, David, “Judge temporarily blocks Seattle law allowing Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize,” The Seattle Times, April 4, 2017, updated April 17, 2017, A federal judge has put on hold a 2015 Seattle law – the first of its kind in the United States – allowing Uber, Lyft and taxi drivers to unionize. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a group of Uber and Lyft drivers is challenging the law.

Heller, Nathan, “Is the Gig Economy Working?” The New Yorker, May 15, 2017, The yin and yang of the gig economy: It may be the future of the U.S. workforce, especially for independence-seeking Millennials. But it favors the better educated, and it comes with burdens: higher economic risk and a dearth of benefits.

Knibbs, Kate, “Will Gig-Economy Workers Ever Have Benefits?” The Ringer, June 7, 2017, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., has proposed legislation to address the problem of lack of benefits for gig-economy workers: portable benefits that are linked to the employee rather than the job.


American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad St., 18th Floor, New York, NY 10004
Legal organization that represents the concerns of independent contractors in the gig economy.

Brookings Institution
1775 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20036
Nonprofit public policy institute that conducts extensive research on the U.S. economy.

30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112
International consulting firm focused on financial growth.

GenZ Publishing
Millennials-oriented online publishing house run by author Morissa Schwartz.

441 Logue Ave., Mountain View, CA 94043
A freelance-hiring platform.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Postal Square Building, 2 Massachusetts Ave., N.E., Washington, DC 20212
The federal agency that tracks job trends.

U.S. Census Bureau
4600 Silver Hill Road, Suitland, MD 20746
The government organization that collects and analyzes population statistics.

Y Combinator
320 Pioneer Way, Mountain View, CA 94041
The original accelerator, it has funded more than 1,200 startups since 2005.

DOI: 10.1177/237455680319.n1