The gig economy plays on

Once upon a time, musicians were the only people who worked at what is still called a ‘gig’. It was the industry world for a concert. Now the word ‘gig’ has become an integral part of the way many people work at present, particularly younger people, but not exclusively. For those generations who were used to stable employment, the gig economy must seem very puzzling, but it is not necessarily what employees would choose; it is simply all that is available, and it is growing in its influence on the way we will work in the future.

The gig economy is made up of three main components: the independent workers paid by the gig (i.e., a task or a project) as opposed to those workers who receive a salary or hourly wage. Companies such as Uber, Airbnb, Lyft, Etsy or Deliveroo act as the medium through which the worker is connected to — and ultimately paid by — the consumer. One of the main differences between a gig and traditional work arrangements, however, is that a gig is a temporary work engagement, and the worker is paid only for that specific job.

Forecasts by PwC (reported by the BBC) show that global online marketplaces that fuel the gig economy could be worth around £43 billion by 2020. Furthermore, one of the largest freelancer marketplaces in the UK, People Per Hour, reported an increase of 64 per cent in the number of UK freelancers using their platform between 2012 and 2015, reports The Gazette

Independent workers in the gig economy can be divided into four broad categories:

· Those who actively choose to freelance full-time and it’s their primary source of income.

· People in full- or part-time employment who supplement their earnings by taking on freelance work.

· The self-employed who reluctantly earn money within the gig economy, but would prefer to work under a contract of employment.

· Those who feel they have no alternative but to take on freelance work.

Compared to freelance work in the past, and there are many arguments ongoing about whether workers in the gig economy are freelance or employed. This was highlighted by Uber and Deliveroo workers in London last year. But one of the key differences between the gig economy and old-school freelancing is the use of technology. Freelancing was once associated with creative work such as editing or graphic design, with computer programming and other similar IT work generally being carried out by contractors, but a subtle change has taken place. Now, the gig economy embraces a much wider work base, including drivers and couriers.

The gig economy relies to a great extent on technology for its success. For example, artificial intelligence software and apps have replaced some administrative and customer-facing roles, such as data entry and the customer helpline representative, known as a chatbot.

Basically, the gig economy has been fuelled by demands for flexibility, reduced employment costs and access to specific expertise. As a result, its growth is unlikely to slow down, given the benefits it brings to both workers and employers.

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