How Generation Y Can Prosper in the Freelance Revolution

There is a silent revolution going on right now. And when the dust settles, the world of work will never be the same.

That’s especially true for Generation Y, the 81 million North Americans born between 1981 and 1994. These young professionals are at a crossroads. In the U.S., 17.6 percent are unemployed (Source: The New York Times, May 28, 2011).

In Europe, the situation is much more severe. Fully 24 percent of those under 25 in France are out of work. And nearly 37 percent of young Spaniards are pounding the streets for jobs (source: BusinessWeek, Aug. 3, 2009).

Some may find this bit of news downright depressing. But when I read these statistics, I saw it differently.

I smelled opportunity for this young generation (and for all of us, really!).

Here’s the deal, folks. The traditional employment model is broken. It’s not going away, but it’s simply unsustainable at the levels we’ve seen over the last decade. The global financial crisis has forced businesses everywhere to take massive cost-cutting action and rethink how they source talent.

Quite simply, businesses simply took on too much when times were good. Many were just downright wasteful. Now they’re trying to restructure for a new reality.

We need to wake up and accept this truth. We need to take responsibility for our own careers — not kick and scream, hoping that the good old days will come back soon.

Kate Phillips, a speaker, trainer, coach and blogger, said it best in a recent blog post titled “Why Entrepreneurs Rule the World”:

“We've put our faith and trust in the wrong places, counting on an employer or a company to sustain us, when we should have been developing our own value in the market place. We can no longer count on jobs to sustain us, rescue us, or bail us out. Employers are doing their best to keep their own head above water, do not count on them to rescue you.”

Now, here’s the good news: Rather than reverting back to the typical “hire and fire” cycle, many of these organizations have been turning to freelance professionals to fill their talent gaps.

So, for Gen Y’ers everywhere, here’s my (blunt) advice: Forget about trying to find a “job.”

Forget about politicians’ promises to fix things. Forget about waiting this one out. (Even if you wait it out, you risk having even greater competition when younger rivals start entering the workforce en masse in two or three years.)

Instead, put your faith where it belongs: on your talents, abilities, creative capacity and ability to solve problems. Then, sell those abilities as a freelance professional. You’ll get back to work much faster. And you’ll have the freedom and flexibility you and your generation craves (we all want that freedom, but you guys have taken life-work balance to a new level).

Don’t have the experience to compete with more seasoned freelancers? No problem. Get some training on a skill that's in demand right now. Take a course or two. Get certified, if that counts for something in your field.

Then, start where your chances are higher: your personal and professional networks. Yes, you may have to work for peanuts while you build your portfolio or work history. But that’s better than waiting and hoping the perfect project will fall on your lap.

And don’t discount sites such as Elance, oDesk or Sure, the competition is tight. Which means that you'll have be choosy as to which projects you bid on. And you'll have to get really good at explaining why you're the ideal choice. But you can't ignore the fact that there are thousands of opportunities on those sites right now!

So... keep an open mind. Get creative. Try a few things and see what sticks. Then do more of what's getting your results.

Welcome to the new world of work.