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’.