What is the Gig/Freelance economy?

The “Gig Economy” is a broad term used to describe a new and evolving way of working which is based on people engaging in various temporary, short term projects (gigs), as opposed to the traditional model of working full time for a single employer. Workers providing services and skills within the gig economy are often referred to as freelancers, and consist of independent temporary, part-time or contingent workers. The gig economy provides solutions for companies or people seeking to hire temporary contract workers, as well as freelancers or workers seeking flexible, short-term working arrangements.

The number of people making up the gig economy has grown exponentially over the last few years. The Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2018 report indicates that in the USA, more than 40 percent of workers are now employed in “alternative work arrangements,” such as contingent, part-time, or gig work. This percentage is steadily rising—increasing by 36 percent in just the past five years—and now includes workers of all ages and skill levels. Only 42% of respondents report that their organisations are primarily made up of salaried employees, and employers expect to dramatically increase their dependence on contract, freelance, and gig workers over the next few years.

This finding is backed up by the World Economic Forum, who indicated in their Future of Jobs 2018 report, that businesses are set to expand their use of contractors doing task-specialized work, with many respondents highlighting their intention to engage workers in a more flexible manner.

About 61% of firms plan to change their workforce activities to facilitate the hiring of more freelance workers now or over the next three years, according to a global survey by advisory firm Willis Towers Watson.

Although South Africa has lagged this global trend, there has recently been a strong focus on alternative work arrangements within the local context. Both organisations and workers are moving quickly to gain a better understanding of the potential opportunities that exist within this space. The rising unemployment figures and inability of traditional employers to create jobs, is also forcing government to explore alternative employment arrangements to address this crisis.

Who makes up the Gig Economy?

Most of the initial freelance and contract work took place within the IT, writing and creative domain, and was conducted by “career freelancers” who had been doing this for many years. Recently, however, the landscape has changed dramatically, and participants in the gig economy have become highly diversified, spanning a broad range of skills. Virtually any task or project can be done using the growing number of skilled freelancers available. The types of workers embracing the gig economy include the following:

  • Traditional freelancers searching for more projects and clients
  • Retirees looking to remain active and earn
  • Corporate employees looking for additional income streams
  • Remote or rural professionals not wanting to relocate in order to work
  • Parents looking for a flexible lifestyle
  • Students seeking income
  • Independent consultants exploring alternative opportunities
  • People looking to change careers or utilize additional skills
  • Anyone looking for more flexibility to suit their lifestyle and retain more control over their work schedules

A growing number of organisations, small businesses and individuals have realized that many of the tasks and projects they need done do not require a full-time resource. These employers now have access to a wider pool of skilled, qualified and flexible workers.

Types of roles that are now considered part of the gig economy include remote freelancing roles, traditional corporate roles, fixed term projects, task-based roles, as well as several new and creative activities such as queue standers and baby name consultants!

Examples of these roles include the following:

Blockchain freelancers, admin support, business plan consultants, pet carers, accountants, writers, web designers, virtual assistants, strategy advisors, legal consultants, ethical hackers, delivery and transport services, tutors, movers and cleaners, social media services, human resource services, marketers, IT support, date concierges, happiness consultants, recruiters, trainers, sales consultants, academic supervisors, coaches, programmers, software developers, bloggers, content developers, logo designers, tax advisors, dog walkers, queue standers, CV designers, online profile designers, handyman services, photographers, translators, hair and make-up services – as you can see, the list is almost endless, and the range of projects and talent is growing by the day