What's Your Anchor Job?

anchor coffeeI retired a few years ago and then I unretired about a year later. I took on some part-time work and then I signed a one-year contract for some consulting. That runs out at the end of August and though I have no plans to do any steady work in the future, I plan to still do some consulting and design work. That work is very part-time and very selective on my part.

But what does that have to do with the title of this post? I'm reading about this year's IPOs. Just a few include Lyft, Postmates, Uber and Airbnb. One trend I'm seeing in that is independent contractors.

Lyft relies on its 1.4 million freelance drivers who earn, on average, $17.50 per hour with no benefits or organizing power. That has got to influence the U.S. workforce. This is called the gig economy, shift work, side hustles and other things. Something connected to this that I have also noticed is the idea of having an "anchor job."

The gig economy is supposed to be empowering as a professional choice. It allows you options. You do the work you want to do. You work when you want to work. It gives you lifestyle choices.

Of course, the downsides are no regular salary, probably less income, no benefits or security.

And so, we get the anchor job. That's the other job that provides benefits and stability. But it has to allow for the flexibility to allow for "side hustles."

I wonder how different this is from someone 50 years ago having a full-time job and then taking on other part-time work. My father did that. He wasn't fulfilling some creative dream. he was trying to make extra money. My side hustles have been only partially done for extra money. Luckily, I was also doing them because I found some enjoyment and the chance to use my creative side. That makes me think that there is some privilege involved in this latest version of extra part-time work.

Although making some money is important, the key to the side hustle is that it is at least partially enjoyable and fulfilling. Are your gig jobs ones that for whatever hours you do them you are willing to give up socializing and leisure time.

Why has the side hustle in addition to the anchor job grown rapidly in recent years? Is it the global economic climate or the ability to use social media to easily self-promote viral marketing? Is it because many of us find that anchor job to be unfulfilling?

Learn More:

Read newamerica.org/new-america/policy-papers/shift-commission-report-findings/

Listen to marketplace.org/shows/make-me-smart-with-kai-and-molly/109-now-lyft-public-what-happens-drivers/

Work FOMO

#workFOMO

FOMO is the acronym for Fear of Missing Out which is defined as "a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent."

Another characteristic of this form of social anxiety is that a person compensates with a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing.

Of course, we associate this social anxiety with social media but, though the acronym is new, the fear of missing out on things has surely been an issue since ancient times. People of the past were lucky - or unlucky, depending on your point of view - because they didn't have social media. Today we are much more aware of what others are doing.

I have written here about people I call "The Disconnected" but today I'm writing about people who are too connected. And yet, there is overlap in those two groups because the connections that "The Disconnected" often still maintain are social networks. 

Some people call the younger generations (Millennials and Gen Z) generations that are "always on," as in always online and always on their devices.

We associate much of this activity with "social" usage such as activity on Facebook and Instagram and updates on where we are, what we are doing and who is with us. Lately, I am seeing more attention paid to the "always on" aspects of work life

Part of that work condition comes from what I will call "Work FOMO." This is when we see people checking their phones, and reading work texts and email long after they have left the workplace. When does the work day end? Perhaps never. And that isn't healthy mentally or physically, and it might not be even helping their career.

You have seen those studies that show that social media can reduce young adults’ sense of well-being and satisfaction with their life. How does checking work messages all day and night affect your well being and satisfaction with your job? Does this increase our fear that our fellow employees are doing things and connecting with others and getting ahead of us in the workplace?

Both social and Work FOMO research probably suffers from correlation and causation issues. Does being on social media make you feel less happy, or do unhappy people spend more time using social media? Does Work FOMO cause you to keep checking in, or does checking in just increase your fear that you're missing out on that important message?

It is popular to post advice on how to overcome FOMO. (Here's one from psychologytoday.com.) The advice sounds reasonable but not always easy to follow. Are you "willing to not have it all?" Can you accept that your needs are limited, but your desires are endless?

There is one piece of advice that sounds reasonable and doable. Focus on one thing at a time. A decade a or two ago, "multitasking" was the thing to do. Then, we started to get research in the late 1990s that showed that we are not good at multitasking. Subjects exhibited severe interference when asked to perform even very simple tasks simultaneously. The human brain really can only respond successfully to one action request at a time. If you have a fear of missing out on something important at work, maybe you should turn your attention away from the screen.

Students Are Still Suffering From Summer Melt

Summer melt is the phenomenon of prospective college students' motivation to attend college "melting" away during the summer between the end of high school and beginning of college. I wrote about this summer melt last summer and this summer (inspired partially by a week-long heatwave in my part of the country) I decided to check in in and see if things have changed. Basically, things have not changed.

There are some intervention programs at schools that seem to help prevent summer melt, but for the majority of schools students are still melting away.

This phenomenon is especially prevalent in low-income minority communities, where students who qualify for college and in some cases even register for classes ultimately end up not attending college because they lack resources, support, guidance, and encouragement. The melting is also common for students who are the first in their family to get a chance at college. That was the case for me many decades ago.

I vividly remember trying to fill in the FAFSA forms for financial aid (which was critical to me attending). My father had died three years before and he was the one who wanted me to attend college and get the opportunities he never had. My mom couldn't provide money for college and couldn't really help in completing the forms. She had no idea what college was all about. I had no one to turn to, so I did it all myself - probably badly, as I didn't get the financial aid that I clearly should have gotten based on our financial situation

But I persevered and I got to Rutgers College in September. And I hated it. College seemed so much like high school all over again that first semester that if I could have gone to an office and gotten all my money back, I would have quit in October.

I couldn't get a refund and I stuck it out, and by the spring semester my perspective had completely changed. I found my place. I found the places to go when I needed help. I was able to get some additional student loans.

Many students were helped on their college path during their years in high school by counselors and probably a few trusted teachers. But that support is gone in the summer after high school graduation and most colleges are not supporting incoming freshmen until orientation.

These students who melt away are not going to other colleges. They are going nowhere.  

The summer melt student rate varies by schools but runs about 10-40% of students, according to a study from Harvard University. According to surveys, the general number given is about one third of all students who leave high school with plans to attend college never arriving at any college campus that fall.

That's the problem. What about the interventions and support?

One project I read about targeted 1,422 students and offered them up to two hours of counseling (which is not much) over a five-week period following high-school graduation. About 500 students received assistance through in-person meetings or over the phone. About one in three of them received help filling out financial-aid forms; another third got help with transcripts. One in 10 merely sought emotional support and reassurance to manage pre-college anxiety. This Summer Link program set a budget of $48 per student to cover costs.

But some of the interventions are not costly and may not involve much staff time. I would not let the high schools totally off the hook when it comes to support. Realizing that almost all high school counselors are 10-month employees and off for the summer, high schools can still support their graduates by texting weekly reminders to check their email, complete their financial aid forms and register for classes can go a long way to keep students on track. If there is any summer staff, being available for help would be a tremendous intervention even if it is more of a group session than 1:1 support. 

For colleges too, texting programs (email seems to not be the way to communicate with these students - though many college are still using that and snail mail as their way to communicate) can make it easy for counselors to reach large numbers of students quickly.

Social media should also be used. Having incoming freshmen follow an Instagram account for their particular class (not the general college accounts) that post photos and brief notes on deadlines, numbers to call etc. would also be better than email and snail mail.

When feasible, getting those students on campus in July and August is a good thing. These are not the students who visit with mom and dad, take pictures and buy t-shirts and things at the bookstore.

My only visit to Rutgers before orientation was an afternoon when we met with a faculty member to create our schedule. My "advisor" was new faculty member who taught economics and knew less about my English Education program of study than I did. Plus, I was profoundly disappointed that my first semester courses seemed to have nothing to do with my goal to be an English teacher. Economics 101? 

Some of summer melt certainly comes from those doubts and concerns I felt and I think all students feel about what college will be, how successful they can be and even if they’ve made the right choice. The forms and information colleges ask for and the placement exams that most schools require and all the deadlines are important. Missing or messing up one of them can really screw up your college path. 

In talking to some friends who are not involved in education about summer melt, they were shocked. They say "You mean a kid has taken the SATs, been accepted, received financial aid, and she still doesn't show up? That makes no sense." And they're right. It doesn't make sense that colleges aren't doing more to prevent these students from melting away.

 


Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College by Benjamin L. Castleman and Lindsay C. Page

Two More MOOCs I Didn't Complete. And I'm Okay With That.

MOOCThough we hear a lot less about Massive Open Online Courses now than we did five years ago, demand for online courses is still growing. In 2015, the global market for online learning was said to be about $107 billion and in 2017, this market was said to have grown to $255 billion. If those numbers are correct, that is more than 200% growth.

Those numbers certainly have attracted companies to create and sell online courses. But I still find many articles that say the completion rate for courses remains low - about 15%. HarvardX and MITx recently reported that only 5.5% of people who enroll in one of their open online courses earn a certificate.

How can we explain this disconnect between demand for courses and the number of people who actually complete the course whether it is free or for a fee? I would go back to some of my MOOC posts since 2012. People often take a MOOC with no intention to finish all the work or the course. They come into the course to get certain content. That is not a model traditional schools or instructors know. It is also a new model for learners. take what you need, and leave.

My own most recent MOOC experiences fit into the non-completion category.  I took the course from HarvardX (edX) on "Buddhism Through Its Scriptures."  I am not new to the study of religion or Buddhism, but I am not really familiar with Buddhist scriptures. I took this free course (no credit/certificate, though that is offered) because of an intellectual curiosity. The course has readings, both scriptural and informational. There are video lectures. There are discussions. There are even quizzes to check and perhaps stop you along the way to prevent you somewhat from just clicking your way through the content.

The other MOOC I enrolled in simultaneously is "Compassionate Leadership Through Service Learning with Jane Goodall and Roots & Shoots" offered through Coursera. This is an action-oriented online teacher professional development course. It is not as passive as many online courses and requires participants to identify and implement a local service-learning campaign. All of this uses the Roots & Shoots program model associated with Jane Goodall, who is one of my personal heroes.

I should not enroll in two courses at once. I just can't commit the time. Though I was interested in the service learning curriculum from an educator point of view, I did not have any plan to implement a campaign. 

I learned about the Roots and Shoots model, gathered some teacher resources, learned the differences between service-learning and community service, and understand what is meant by a compassionate leader. many of the skills apply to other projects I work on, especially in my volunteer work.I mentor young people and some of that is about try to create change in the community, so learning about using community mapping, collaborating with stakeholders, and designing practical campaigns are all useful. 

Did I learn from the two courses? Yes. Will I apply that learning to my personal and work lives? Yes. Did I complete the courses? No. Do I consider this a failure of the course or myself? No. 

One of the battle cries during the rise of the MOOC was to democratize online learning. I believe that has happened. The number of free and inexpensive online courses available to learners worldwide is massive. There might even be too many courses - part of the online information overload of blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, ebooks, webinars, and websites.

Our way of measuring student success across different platforms and educational settings need to change. A better question to ask a MOOC learner at the end of the course is whether the course met their needs. 

I don't know if the "freemium" model of the MicroMasters programs offered on edX will be part of a new way of selecting courses and a program. They allow someone to start in a lower-cost online course and then apply for an in-person semester-long graduate program if they make it through the online portion. The MOOC-that's-not-a-MOOC is a kind of test drive.

There are many interesting approaches to online learning, certification, accreditation and tuition that are changing higher education. The MOOC movement initiated many of these projects - but they are NOT MOOCs. Keep that in mind.