Growing Skills Gap Poses Opportunity for Skilled Freelancers

To prepare our students to move into these new roles, schools will need to place an emphasis on creativity, independent thinking, self-directed work, and openness to experimentation and risk.

But there’s a gap – a big gap. Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute believes that the cognitive skills, work discipline, drive, maturity, and integrity to master the education required to perform today’s jobs are found in only a small segment of our population. In his 2008 book, Real Education, Murray argues that, “The number going to college exceeds the number capable of mastering higher levels of intellectual inquiry.” He goes on to say that there are a significant number of students who do not have the wherewithal to absorb and implement the lessons derived from higher learning.

Sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa confirmed Murray’s argument. They reported in Academically Adrift that 45 percent of students showed no significant improvement in critical thinking and writing skills, two of the most important and marketable skills in the real world. Even after four years, the figure was still a disturbingly high 36 percent.

The survey by the authors also revealed that:

  • On average, students spent only 12-14 hours per week on studying, and much of that time was in “group settings.”
  • Only one-third of students studied alone, and those who did averaged five or fewer hours a week.
  • Half of those surveyed indicated they avoided taking courses that required more than 20 pages of writing per semester.
  • 32 percent of students avoided courses that required more than 40 pages of reading a week.

This shortage of talent means that there will also be an opportunity for the most skilled freelancers to earn a significant living, much different than workers who continue to hold the traditional core jobs. The independent workers with the greatest talents and proven track records will be in high demand, and companies will try to outbid each other for their services.

Finding talent will be only one obstacle employers will face. Thanks to technology, many of these workers will want to work from home. That means this virtual contingent independent worker will need the skills to understand automation, master technology, and possess the discipline to work independently and collaboratively. This will have a dramatic impact on how employers recruit, screen, select, and manage the workers and manage expectations.

The days of an economy that seeks employees who repeat facts and follow orders will fade away. It will be replaced by a need for innovative, entrepreneurial workers. They will be called upon to recognize an unmet need and then develop a product or service that addresses that market.

The gap between the skills that are needed and the skills available will continue to widen until our education system gets in sync with the needs of the current workforce. The best way to ensure our future is for schools and universities to provide our children and young adults with the skills they need to succeed in the workforce, not just obtain another certificate or degree. Unfortunately studies such as those mentioned earlier indicate that our educational system is broken as it pertains to workforce preparedness.

Read Part #1 about the growing contingent workforce.



Ira S Wolfe


  1. Vince November 1, 2012 at 2:30 pm -

    A very interesting point that shows there is still hope for freelancers!