Cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit

For decades, the formula was simple: You went to college, graduated, found a job with a company and worked there for a long time. Or maybe you went directly into the workforce and received on-the-job training. If you switched jobs in your career, you looked for another company to “settle down” with for a while. That is no longer the case. The landscape has shifted.

Now, a rising number of professionals are instead working for themselves. A 2021 survey by Upwork of freelancers in the U.S. indicated 53 percent are in skilled services such as design, IT and marketing. The “gig economy” is here to stay.

In 2021, about 36 percent of the U.S. workforce was engaged in gig work, according to research Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C®) is conducting with Team NEO. And that number will only continue growing as more Baby Boomers retire and are replaced by Gen Z.

The growing gig economy reflects a mindset shift among workers — particularly those under 40. They seek a work environment that is tailor-made to their passions and ambitions. They want to work when and where they want, for the people and organizations they want, and to determine their compensation. They value work/life balance, and control of their careers and income, over the benefits and security of traditional employment.

At Tri-C, we have shifted our mindset in response. In addition to preparing students for traditional employment, we also offer programs of study and certificates that support those drawn to the gig economy. Both provide a pipeline of talent for businesses.

It may surprise you to learn that most gig workers already have an associate degree or some form of technical training. We help them run more successful businesses by providing professional skills training and post-degree certifications in areas such as project management, marketing and finance.

At Tri-C, we have long emphasized the cultivation of entrepreneurs. For example, through our partnership with Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses program, we help local business leaders hone their skills and network with colleagues in a cohort-based environment.

For the past year, local entrepreneurs have had the opportunity to learn from business management expert LaRese Purnell of CLE Consulting Firm through Master Classes for Small-Business Owners, hosted by Tri-C as part of the Entrepreneur in Residence initiative created by Huntington Bank and the city of Cleveland.

Corporate College®, a division of Tri-C, also offers professional development programs that focus on business skills such as accounting, leadership and project management. Look for even more robust entrepreneurial offerings later this summer. We are also planning an entrepreneurship program as part of our new academic model. It will align with offerings from Corporate College and our Workforce Training division.

We are making an investment to support entrepreneurial thinking among our current and potential students because it will benefit Northeast Ohio in many ways. First, every business benefits from entrepreneurial thinking. Second, gig workers are a highly skilled and adaptable option for combatting current talent shortages. This will require employers to shift their mindsets — and possibly procedures — to include this growing segment of the workforce in their talent pipeline strategies.

The gig economy is a valuable driver for regional growth and a source of untapped talent that can address our regional skills gap. It will propel us all forward if we nurture it properly. ●

Michael A. Baston is President of Cuyahoga Community College

Michael A. Baston

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