“Living to work is not the plan,” says Camryn Harris, a Gen Z resident in our area who spoke eloquently and with confidence during a provocative discussion over dinner recently.
“I am not willing to accept a career that allows me to live a lifestyle, but rather I am going to chose a lifestyle and build my career around it.” The table is silent as Harris explains that travelling a path that will place her in a workforce without giving consideration to her lifestyle just doesn’t fit the bill, and frankly, she says, the bills are enormous when considering the cost of a degree. “Before I even consider a career, I need to be clear; what kind of lifestyle I would like to have, and then I will use my skills and my abilities to find or create work that will allow for it. Naturally, if that path includes school, I am happy to go, but not until I know for sure that it will yield the right result, and we are not talking about money, but rather the lifestyle. That is what I am focusing on here.”
This perspective, although provocative, is sometimes dismissed as not wanting to work. That is not the case at all. It's a misconception facing many Millennial, Generation X or Generation Z workers, now 19 - 30 years old and entering the workforce. Having heard the expression that that we need to be nimble for these workers to survive, it's a head scratcher as to what to do next. Is this a real thing?
“Well yes it is,” says Brock Dickinson, Adjunct Professor and Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Waterloo. “A new presence is about us with the ‘Gig’ economy," he says. This language is derived from the concept of a musician who signs up for a gig, a short term project that has quick goals and time commitments. "Now we have workers here who are looking for their own gig economy, be it Uber, or AirBnB, consulting, freelance writing, or more independent careers where they can be open to opportunities around them rather than being restricted by a shift or a timeline for which they are accountable. For those with an entrepreneurial spirit, the ability to craft their work to match the lifestyle is rising everywhere.”
And it's buzzing in Georgian Bay, where Elizabeth Louter finds herself a bee keeper and proprietor of Harbour Honey. One small bee hive kit, a gift from her husband on Valentine's Day, has turned into six hives and honey production. Harbour Honey also produces bee lip balm, bee wraps, bee candles and forthcoming bee beer, (a partnership brewing with Sawdust City Brewing Company another entrepreneur and a local success story).
Is this an interruption of traditional work spaces in this area? “Yes, it absolutely is,” says Joanne Smith, owner of several Tim Hortons in and around Muskoka and Midland. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to find workers who are willing to commit to a schedule and a work life that requires on-time performance,” she says.
So how do we respond as a community? As economic and community developers, we at Venture Muskoka believe, and Professor Dickinson agrees, that the way to support both the gig economy and the traditional economy is to ensure that the training available and the menu of options for training go beyond post secondary multi-year courses to include acute triage courses on bookkeeping, marketing, sales, and small business. Partnering with small business enterprises and Muskoka Futures may well be a good and reliable opportunity to attract the attention of people like Camryn and Elizabeth.
This is not to dismiss the important skillsets that franchise owner Joanne Smith needs from her employees, with scheduled work weeks and on-time performance. Perhaps it is a marriage of both worlds, as for many, there need to be multiple income streams to make ends meet while gig workers follow their passions and build their dreams. This type of worker is important and the ability to support the gig economy does match where Muskoka is headed in terms of attracting these gig workers to our communities.
Whether it be bee farming, craft brewing or something we have not even imagined yet, it makes good sense for communities to rally and support this shift in working styles and preferences. The way we do business is changing. The gig economy is here. Why? Well, says Harris, if you want to assign credit or blame, he says, "take a look at the cost of education. It is no longer affordable to attend school just to get a degree. The only way this could even be considered now is if there are courses I need for the lifestyle I am not willing to negotiate."
Learn more about how you take the first step to joining the gig economy—as well as the traditional economy—here in Muskoka with these resources.
~Originally published in October 2019, this story was updated in February 2021.