The Global Gig Economy

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The days of ‘life-long’ careers within the same organisation, long-term stability of a signed job contract, guaranteed relevance of the skills acquired in university, and predictable work routines are long gone. Today, a CV with no updates within a 5-7 year period signifies career stagnation, rather than progression; the majority of skills need to be constantly refreshed and upgraded to catch up with the technological advancement and the ever-changing global market; and the variety of ways in which people work is probably larger than ever before. Indeed, hardly any business with cross-border reach can provide employees with traditional work arrangements. To be fair, there are probably not that many Millennial and Gen Y employees, who would want that anyway. The global economy is fast-paced, and trades opportunities for relevant skillsets. In line with this demand, there is also a growing talent pool of independent talents, who are autonomous and willing to sell their skillsets on the global market.

The so-called ‘gig’ economy is probably one of the best examples of the changing employment landscape. The gig economy implies workers taking on temporary work to perform specific tasks or projects, and is meant for independent contractors and freelancers. As pointed out by Mercer Insights, the gig economy seems like a win-win arrangement. Namely, businesses benefit from the flexibility in reacting to the changing market (e.g. no demand – no workers), and therefore also save on many fixed costs, which go along with permanent employment. And what is in it for ‘gig workers’? Autonomy, independence and flexibility, as employees can choose and combine their own, unique, work-life. Sounds good, right? Yet, how good it actually ‘feels’, from the standpoint of employees, probably depends…

The gig economy is largely known based on the examples of on-demand businesses, such as Uber and the like. This type of gig opportunities are mainly focused on low-level skills, such as delivery and, hence, are likely to be used by temporary local workers to earn additional money, or to substitute for their inability to get a permanent job. Within such a realm, being a gig worker sounds rather like a necessity than a choice or privilege. Indeed, there is quite some criticism of such gigs, as they are considered not worker friendly and involve many risks for employees.

On the other hand, I see the gig economy as a great opportunity for another type of worker, the highly skilled global worker, who is willing to market his/her unique skills, as well as enjoys change and new opportunities. I would foremost think of expat freelancers here. The highly skilled professionals of this pool are probably quite in demand, given the skill shortages experienced by many multinationals, and can therefore monetize their skills and negotiate pay packages in accordance to their own needs. As Mercer Insights highlights, for companies recruiting such a gig worker can be quite a costly operation. At the same time, it also allows companies to access the needed talent and skills in the right time and in the right place, which might make the spending worthwhile. On a similarly positive note, Lisa Johnson, Global Practice Leader at Crown World Mobility consulting services, suggests global mobility professionals to take a closer look at the gig economy, as it might be crucial to business development in the future. Given the expected impact of automation on the jobs and skills of the future, I personally tend to agree with such a prediction. The need for specific high-level skills and on-demand arrangements will only increase, which might theoretically suit some of the workforce quite well. As Lisa Johnson argues, ‘the feeling in global mobility is that Generation Y and Z are increasingly enticed by the freedom the gig economy can provide’.

16 thoughts on “The Global Gig Economy

  1. The gig economy as cool as it sounds is still tough to be in. But I guess we’ll have to see how everything works out in that regard, good read overall thanks!

  2. I agreed..
    I used to hire a lot of full time staff in the past.
    But now I am ordering most of similar works to low cost freelancers (mostly from Asia, Africa..)
    The ‘life long’ career era definitely gone.

  3. True, I agree that they say the long-term career is ending! Today, companies want to hire short-term and pay less, or even live as freelancer!

    It is very important the qualification, because in day, does not admit people with low schooling and no experience. The market is demanding!

    It seems that the market wants the qualification but does not want to qualify !!!

  4. Gig economy is like a continuously growing circle with spots here and there. There are both opportunities and risks, but to estimate its true potential still seems difficult. Both Uber and Air BnB have generated some heat and their tussle with law has given rise to mixed results However, somewhere both have achieved a distinct win. Air BnB helped several homeowners pay their homeloans and while in US tax related tussles continue, Amsterdam passed a law that is favorable for Air BnB. However, the most crucial thing is that the gig or the sharing economy as most people know it, has also shown a new direction and if we think in terms of freedom, that’s a costly achievement which will appeal to a larger crowd of professionals.

  5. Dear Professor Reiche,
    I have read a few articles about the side effects of being a gig economy worker like Uber drivers feeling heightened isolation. So, if you remove certain specific restrictions from a job how do you balance the resultant centrifugal force. I am sorry I am kind of getting confused here but something evoked the feeling that gig workers could also land themselves on the receiving end. What do you think about those side effects and how these companies can manage them? As in this FT article – https://www.ft.com/content/749cb87e-6ca8-11e7-b9c7-15af748b60d0

  6. Even high-end gig workers are ultimately disposable. Companies no longer have to pay the true cost of labor, which includes health care, child care and retirement. Gig employment is a prescription for poverty.

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  8. In line with this demand, there is also a growing talent pool of independent talents, who are autonomous and willing to sell their skillsets on the global market. “Thanks for sharing. You’ve done a very nice article.”

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