Who’s got the gig?


The dictionary definition

“a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs”

But what are we really talking about?

The idea of the sharing economy has been around for a while. Unicorn businesess, Uber and Airbnb personify that notion and some analysts even talk about the ‘uberisation’ of the economy, such has been the success of that model (U.S. trials on workers’ rights and lawsuits between Airbnb and New York City notwithstanding). The phrase gig economy was coined at the height of the financial crisis in early 2009. Thereby hangs a tale. Because in fact gigging has long been with us. The economy suffers a recession, people get hurt by unemployment and grab several part-time jobs instead, wherever possible. Including inventing jobs that didn’t previously exist. 100 years’ ago gig work referred to jazz club musicians and referenced their intermittent, mobile, ‘gig’-driven livelihoods.

Today the gig economy stretches across a wide range of roles many of which would not be possible without the confluence of technological innovation, on-demand consumerism and investment in market disrupting businesses. From Uber drivers and Deliveroo deliverers at one end, to the highly skilled ‘portfolio workers’ at the other. But there’s a moot point. Did 2009 reduce fixed employment opportunities which in turn fuelled gig work? Or do we all suddenly want to be free to pick and choose what we do? There’s plenty commentary about the desire for greater work-life balance. And the truth usually lies somewhere in between, hovering in the misty overlapping concentric circles of parallel socio-economic developments. It is so far true that those online intermediaries remain a very small fraction of alternative employment arrangements. But the massive growth of the broader gig economy means the expansion of temporary work is real and far-reaching.

Old meets new

In gig world, the baby boomers seem to be leading the way. Money in their pockets, bowing out or crashing out of old corporate careers, but still looking for purpose and fulfilling work. It seems that the ‘oldies’ could be at the forefront of gig life. The popularist view might be that the gig economy’s growth is driven by millennials either looking for a sense of freedom or finding what work they can in a tough job market. But research in the U.S. by Katz and Krueger, instead showed (2005 to 2015) that workers between ages 55 and 74 are the major drivers of the gig economy’s growth. Wow! Since when did the ‘retirement’ age demographic fuel job growth amongst that age group? That’s a phenomenal societal shift. “Alternative work is more common among older workers and more highly educated workers, and the workforce has become older and more educated over time,” Katz and Krueger wrote. And a little adjunct is that the number of women in alternative work arrangements more than doubled from 8.3 percent to 17 percent between 2005 and 2015.

What’s everyone doing?

Taken together, the four largest industries in the gig economy — healthcare, education, construction, and professional and business services — make up over half of the gig economy. Researchers Katz and Krueger also found that the specific jobs done by people with alternative employment arrangements became significantly more diffuse between 2005 and 2015. So not only are there more workers in the gig economy, but there is a wider variety of jobs as well.

Bubble or grok?

So – where do you think it’s going? Do you think it’s a fad or here to stay? Either way, and whether you like it or not, thanks to economic reasons or lifestyle reasons, no-one disputes that the work landscape is changing and fast. Is this growing too fast – is it a bubble that will burst? Or do you grok it? Does your business grok it? At gigCMO we’re grokking it! We think – prepare yourself for the change. We believe there’s no doubt that the way people work is changing because we’re doing it.

Are you?

Lesley C Wilson, Co-Founder gigCMO