what exactly is the gig economy?

You may have heard the phrase “gig economy” in your job search – or even in your work environment – but do you know what it actually means?

It has become one of those buzz phrases that techs and startups love to use, but in fact it’s a lot more than just a phrase. 

what is the gig economy?

The Bureau of Labour Statistics defines the gig economy as a workforce that is based on "single projects or task[s] for which a worker is hired, often through a digital marketplace, to work on demand."

There are a number of self-serving gig economy platforms at work that run on reviews, profiles and ratings. But the gig economy is even bigger than that, and has started to penetrate the workplace too. 

The gig economy extends across all industries and roles, and is essentially a flexible and on-demand workforce who performs “gig” jobs for other people when they need them. 

Gig workers can be anyone, from part-timers looking to make additional funds from a second job, to full time freelancers. They can also be from a range of backgrounds and across a range of industries. 

The gig economy is now a global trend and it may start to infiltrate the New Zealand workplace. 

how has the gig economy impacted the workplace?

The “gig economy” has had varying effects across industries. Depending who you speak to, some people see this change as a positive one, with more flexibility for hours and remote work, high-earning potential, the option to work for various companies and the ability to become your own boss. 

The 2017 Randstad Employer Brand Research highlighted that once again New Zealanders are most concerned about salary and benefits above everything else when they look for an employer, and so this high-earning potential can seem quite appealing. 

On the other hand, the gig economy can be an unsteady and unsatisfactory alternative from the secure and stable full time job, and do Kiwis really want that? As the 2017 Randstad Employer Brand Research revealed, New Zealanders reported that the third most important job attribute is job security, a stable top three job attribute for Kiwis over the last three years. 

The gig economy may also have an impact on existing industries and their stability, with the transformation of long-standing institutions disrupted by newer and more agile gig-structured versions, take Uber and Airbnb as examples. 

Long fought-for benefits from stable jobs may also be impacted, such as pensions, additional healthcare, sick days and job security (with shorter notice periods in the gig world). This may have a greater impact on the age in which New Zealanders will now be able to retire.

While New Zealand may be slightly behind in terms of its laws allowing the gig economy to happen - with a reported greater risk for contractors working in New Zealand than elsewhere and a 2012 report from Statistics New Zealand reporting that casual employment was not yet on the rise – it is expected here. 

New Zealanders themselves are expecting a change. The quarter 4 2016 Randstad Workmonitor and Mobility Index highlighted that 50% of Kiwi respondents admit they need to acquire more skills in order to guarantee their future employability, and 68% agree that the employees at their current employer do not have the required digital skill sets. 

It’s difficult to deny that the gig economy effect isn’t starting to happen here, when the global impact is so great. In fact, according to the Inuit 2020 Report, by 2020 contingent workers will make up more than 40% of the workforce in the US, while they already make up 30% of the current US workforce. 

the future of the gig economy

The pros and cons of the gig economy for workers are undeniable, and yet however you feel about casual working, its growth is undeniably happening. 

The best thing you can do is ensure you are ready for this shift. Make sure you are always thinking about upskilling your role and try to shift your focus from static processing tasks to more creative high-level tasks that can be performed remotely.  

The gig economy has the potential to liberate workers and offer unprecedented benefits, as long as employees are protected and secure.

It’s also a good idea to consider how you might be able to support yourself if you industry does transform into a gig focused industry. Where will you fit in and how will your job security be protected? These are not only questions to ask yourself, but also your future employer.
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