Op-Ed: The End Credits and The Gig Economy

I am one of those people that sit through an entire movie. When I say ENTIRE movie, I mean all of the credits. I was doing that long before the Marvel Comic movies added those cool little stingers at the end.

I was watching when the credits would scroll all the way through, and would be rewarded with: “James Bond will return in The Spy Who Loved Me: Summer 1977” or something to that effect. (I am still waiting for Doc Savage: Archenemy of Evil, promised to me in 1975 at the end of Doc Savage: Man of Bronze.)

And while the structure of the credit scroll has basically not changed, one thing I have noticed is that the end credits have gotten longer. Sometimes a full ten minutes is taken to get from movie’s final scene to the typical final phrase “Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. And the soundtrack is available on Sony Records. And James Bond will return in 2019.”

Most people don’t pay much attention to the end credits. However, a lot can be learned from watching those seemingly never ending list of names. In the latest Star Wars movie “The Last Jedi” there were about 1800 people involved in the creation of that movie according to the IMDB website, not counting the cast.

That means about 2000 or so people worked together to create a single work. Imagine wrangling 2000 people to work on a single project. And not only were these people working all at different jobs, they also were working in different countries: Croatia, United States, United Kingdom, Bolivia and Ireland. At least 16 separate companies worked just on the special effects.

A russian arm.

Along with the usual cast and credits that you are familiar with such as Producers, Executive Producers, Directors, lighting technicians and such, there were jobs such as “4D effects editor,” “russian arm operator,” “phantom camera technician” and “creature puppeteer.”

If you needed a “4D effects editor”, or a “russian arm operator” where would you go? Creature puppeteer? Probably not someone that you have on staff. You would hire a specialist for a short period of time, and when the job, or gig, was over, they would go on their way to their next job.

Not necessarily your next job. You may hire them again, or you may not.

Welcome to the “gig economy,” where short term, temporary free lance employees come to work “as needed” but are not attached to a company. The gig can be huge, like the 2000 people that came together to create “The Last Jedi,” (TLJ) or it can be small like a single Uber driver.

The gig economy where groups of people come together, work collaboratively on a project, and then go their own ways, when done differs greatly from the economy that most people are familiar with. People working on a gig may work together again or they may not. Typically, all gigs are temporary.

This growing freelance job market is made possible by advances of digital technology, where workers no longer have to be tied down to a geographical location to get a job done. Special effects artists working on TLJ came from all over the world, including China, England and California. (Ever heard of a global economy? Movie making is a great example of that in action.) Ten special effects companies and dozens of artists, working across the globe, might be called upon to complete a single scene lasting only seconds in the final version of the movie.

There is mounting evidence that our future workforce will be heavily made up of freelance or “gig workers.” Gig workers make up close to 34% of the current economy according to Intuit, and are expected to make up to 40% of all US workers by the end of 2020.

Businesses like the idea of a gig workforce because they do not have to keep highly paid specialist on staff taking up offices, for just occasional work. Temporary workers don’t require all of those benefits that a full time worker requires such as insurance and retirement plans. They also have a much larger workforce to choose from, essentially everyone that can do that particular job anywhere on the planet. Gig employees like the idea of the freedom that gig work entails. They can follow the work that they are passionate for, are not bound to the drudgery of working for a single company, and can set their own hours.

While we have always had some amount of the workforce working as “freelance” workers, most of them have been sort of lone wolves and certainly did not represent the percentage of workers that are now in that type of job situation.

NPR recently did a with a segment on the “Contract Worker” which is essentially the same idea as a gig worker. This one focused on contracted lawyers, and let’s just say, the days of a single lawyer, in a local office are numbered.

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How does education need to respond to preparing our students for this new way of doing business? A recent blog post by Emily Liebtag suggests that educators need to teach students to adapt to the changing workplace dynamics by making sure that students are able to find a passion that they are willing to make an impact in.

They need to be given meaningful problems and projects that are not simply focused on making money and are actually given the opportunity to create short term projects that mimic the “gigs” they will encounter in the world outside.

Along with Liebtag’s ideas, students also need to be well versed in how to work collaboratively, communicate clearly, and critically think with others, all skills that every single one of the people working on The Last Jedi had to been able to do and are essential in a gig economy. Today, we educate students to do A JOB for a long period of time.

We need to switch to teaching students how to pivot between differing jobs without losing a step. We all saw what happened during the Great Recession when people trained to do a single job were displaced and could not find employment because they were not flexible enough to learn a new type of job.

The workforce of the near future will be all about uncertainty, automation, technology infusion and people switching jobs from one month to the next. The idea of a “career” as we now define it might become more cloudy as well.

How we prepare our students to function in that type of economic environment will go a long way in determining their success and whether or not we will ever see James Bond returning in the Summer of 2035 or Doc Savage: Archenemy of Evil.

I can’t wait.



Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.