The so-called gig economy has received plenty of attention in recruitment, business and freelancing circles over the past few months.
According to one estimate, it could inject £45 billion into the UK economy and create extra work for 766,000 people by 2025.
But what exactly is the gig economy?
Is it a passing trend or a buzz-phrase dreamt up in a marketing department somewhere? Or could it actually represent a revolution in the world of work?
Defining the gig economy
An excellent new report by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), entitled Gig economy – The Uberisation of work, contains the following definition:
Gig working is when people opt to assume temporary, often ad-hoc, work contracts (or ‘gigs’) sourced online through digital, cloud-based marketplaces. The recent growth of online capital platforms such as Uber and Airbnb has given rise to a global sharing economy – also dubbed the ‘gig economy’ – in which it is becoming ever more commonplace to buy and sell jobs and services online across the world. Digital work platforms such as Upwork and Freelancer.com are symptomatic of the ‘Uberisation’ of work, as they allow businesses to contract workers for short-term engagements, or specific projects, for a defined period of time.
Freelancer.com’s Joe Griston, who sees the gig economy as “the future of work”, told the REC:
People refer to us as the eBay for jobs. We’re a two-sided marketplace. As an employer you post work to the site, detailing your project, and then freelancers all around the world will bid on that piece of work. They’ll state their charge and then you’ll be able to see some very powerful stats on the freelancer, plus their ratings, reviews, qualifications and examples of previous work as well as a five-star rating system. Based on what they get, the employer picks someone to do that work.
It’s this element of bidding for projects online that distinguishes a ‘gig worker’ from a traditional contractor or freelancer, who would typically find assignments through a recruitment agency.
How big is the gig economy?
Quantifying the gig economy was never going to be an easy task, but the REC report contains some interesting stats.
For example, while just 6% of British businesses are currently using digital work platforms as part of their recruitment and procurement efforts, 29% say these platforms will become more important to them by 2021.
That suggests that jobs site Indeed, which partnered with the REC to produce the report, is right to describe the gig economy as “small but growing.”
Opportunity or threat?
Whether you’re a recruiter or a freelancer, the rise of the gig economy should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat.
For recruiters there is a whole new avenue for sourcing candidates, plus the chance to take the lead and help clients make sense of this significant new trend.
For freelancers, the gig life can mean flexible working, a new route for securing assignments, setting your own price for a particular piece of work and the chance win clients and projects regardless of location.
The main threat for both camps seems to be inaction or a refusal to seize the opportunities presented by the gig economy.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address as US president:
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.