The gig economy is here to stay, are you ready?
The gig economy has transformed the labour market. Companies contract services and gain flexibility, whilst professionals work project-by-project and manage their own time. It is the era of the digitalisation of work, but there are still matters to resolve so that this new environment can benefit all parties.
Do you know anyone who would be interested in cleaning for two hours per week at my house?”, “Do you know of an odd job person who can paint the wall of my living room?”, “Can you think of a photographer who could do a session in my new offices?”. At some point we’ll have heard these questions in our surroundings without realising that we were experiencing the first steps of what is now known as the gig economy: a pattern of work on demand or by order, in which one-off contracts are signed for sporadic jobs for which the candidate brings everything necessary to the company. It is the digitalisation of the economy. We no longer contract people, but services. We no longer talk as much about looking for a job, but about enhancing a person’s employability.
What makes this new labour model for the informal economy that we have always known different is its increasing weight in the market as a result of the appearance of new digital businesses and the automation of certain job roles. Just in Spain, 6% of the population offers products or services in the collaborative economy. According to the latest report by the European Collaborative Economy Forum (EUCoLab), published in 2016, this is the highest proportion in the European Union. The forecast for Europe is that in the next few years, 150 million people will be part of this model.
The digital marketplaces where these exchanges take place are highly varied. There are those that request and offer basic services, right up to those that market more specific, higher value-added services. Among the former are companies such as Deliveroo, Uber, Airbnb and Wallapop; they only require the ‘employee’ to have a bike, a car, a house and something to sell, respectively. At the other extreme are Etsy, Fiverr and Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), among others; where artists offer their work for sale; editors and designers can write tailored texts and develop a corporate image.
The common characteristic of all of them is that “the person who needs the service is looking for skills, not people; they demand objectives and prioritise immediacy”, explains Liliana Arroyo, researcher at ESADE’s Institute of Social Innovation and specialist in digital revolution and social transformation. If you need to quickly translate a text on agricultural matters from English to Spanish, you’re not going to look for an agronomy engineer in a long selection process and then bring them onto the staff, rather it will be enough to find someone who knows English, masters the subject matter and is able to return the translation to you as soon as possible. And that’s the end of the working relationship.
This gig economy “is an opportunity not just for the employee, but also for the individual and the company who is hiring”, indicates Celia Ferrero, executive vice-president of the National Federation of Autonomous Workers (ATA).
Professionals who manage their own time
They can get additional income, work from home, and make work compatible with their personal life. These are the main reasons why someone is motivated to opt for this work model, according to the report The Social Protection of Workers in the Platform Economy, published by the European Parliament at the end of 2017.
These three reasons are what has led Rafael Martell, wedding photographer, to offer his services for photography sessions, editing and retouching photos: “My profession is very seasonal because people mostly get married when it’s hot, so I wanted to enhance my income with assignments outside of the season, no strings attached, that I could decide on depending on whether they interest me or not according to my available time”. According to Ferrero, Martell is the classic example of a worker on demand: “He is self-employed, has his own means, he manages himself, establishes his working hours and recognises and defends his right to decide freely”.
More flexible companies
On the other hand, there is the benefit obtained by the one who is employing via these platforms. It enables companies to access services immediately, including those innovators and highly specific individuals who before were unattainable, at almost any time, paying only for what they use and reducing their structural costs. Having said this, they should be responsible consumers and not turn a blind eye to abusive situations that may lie beneath low prices, explains Ferrero. At the other end of the chain are the digital platforms, which “should bear in mind that there are rules that must be respected”, she comments, alluding to the serious rejection that platforms like Uber are experiencing in some countries. These companies are already “paying heavily for having come in all kamikaze, setting back their inclusion into the market potentially forever”.
In this framework there are also traditional corporations that are opposed to the collaborative model, but which “have no option but to bring themselves up-to-date faced with a change that is irreversible. Furthermore, it could mean an opportunity for them, if they make the most of the synergies and innovative ideas that these new actors are generating”, according to the vice-president of the ATA.
To be improved
"There is a strong connection between working through platforms and insecurity", signals the European Parliament as one of the main drawbacks of this business model. “The dissociation of these professionals from social protection is not new, nor is it the exclusive preserve of the digital economy. What is happening is that more and more people are opting for this working model”, assures Ferrero.
Arroyo goes beyond this by highlighting that the problems attributed to the uberisation of work are, rather, the result of something bigger: the unstoppable growth of the Internet and the automation of work. “If we have a job that involves ten distinct tasks in a complete working day, and seven can be carried out by a computer programme, the person will only work – and bill for – 30% of what they did before”, she comments. At this extreme, insecurity will only be resolved if a person’s rights are associated with the person rather than with their role as a worker. “This is an opportunity to rethink the world and put a controversial question on the table: people’s basic income. If it is not done in this way, inequalities will continue to grow”.
How should you prepare?
- Do you know languages? Do you write well? Can you do it quickly? Do you meet deadlines? Your CV should not be based on where you have studied and where you work, but on your skills and on what you are able to offer. The more specific the better.
- What things do you know how to do, and which are unattainable for machines? You need to change the chip and stop talking about jobs in order to think in terms of employability.
- Digital literacy. Learn to use new technologies and understand how to apply them to be more productive and efficient.
- Continuous learning throughout your life. Your employability cannot depend on a degree that you obtained 20 years ago.
- Being well informed and advised is essential to know your rights as a worker and avoid possible abuses.
By Elvira del Pozo