Are you gigging?

Depending on which side of it you're on, its either good or bad. As the cliché goes, it is a constant. It's always around.

The sun rising in the east, the tides coming in and going out and Barack Obama's iconic election pitch - are all undercut by a single denominator - Change.

If someone told you that they made a living delivering food, groceries or even people sometimes to pre-determined destinations with the help of an app, you would probably have dismissed them; If you're prone to giving advice then maybe even educate them about the more viable, traditional career options that exist. That's in the past. Change, you see.

Ideas that were still finding their feet in garages, start-up incubators, college dormitories until a few years ago are now either billion-dollar enterprises or on their way to becoming one. Those 'Ideas', now able to harness the immense power of the democratisation of technology and connectivity down to the finite individual, are ushering in an era of economic opportunity and social upliftment not seen since the industrial revolution.

Do you want a job? Download an App. Yeah, it's exactly as easy as that. It is the new, accepted reality.

'Driver Partner' – 'Delivery executive' - These are job designations that exist and they are changing what we perceive to be traditional forms of employment, and in some cases our lifestyles even.

Say you want Pizza for dinner; you could order it in, you could go to the pizza place, you could make one for yourself and if you do, you can have someone deliver the ingredients for the said pizza to your doorstep, and in the meantime if you've changed your mind, you can even hire someone to make the pizza for you, at your home!

No matter which option you choose to go within this situation, each one of them would lead to a gig - a short-term employment opportunity for someone to put their expertise or labour to use for your benefit. And In this particular case, a delicious Pizza.

Free-lancing or short-term contract employment has been around for a while now but today more than ever this form of employment is over-taking the traditional 9 to 5 office job that comes with a steady paycheck and perks. Studies predict that by 2020 almost 40 per cent of all employed individuals will be full-time freelancers. And an even higher number of individuals would look to supplement their income from a full-time job with some 'gigging' on the side.

These numbers are only going to sway one way, upwards.

About 73 per cent of individuals, who are independent short-term contractors say they would prefer to continue working as freelancers not bound by office hours and assigned to a desk. Why? For a few good reasons. Gigging gives them the flexibility to work on projects at their convenience from the comfort of their surroundings. It allows them the freedom to work on projects they would want to.

Over time, the trend of eligible employees seeking job satisfaction over monetary compensation has been increasing steadily. These trends are unlikely to reverse as they are a consequence of the world we live in right now. Payslips in traditional jobs are unable to keep pace with the rise in the costs of living.

Most individuals enter this workforce out of choice. From the freelancer's point of view, full time freelancing could, aside from all the freedoms associated with being their own boss, mean a lot more time can be spent on personal improvement. Besides re-skilling and up-skilling, all that 'extra' time can be spent on personal wellness and soulful experiences like travel.

This flexibility is something that today's generation values over the number of zeroes in the salary-slip.

All these factors and some more result in 73 per cent of freelancers claiming they would prefer to continue working as independent contractors over securing full-time job opportunities.

An often-overlooked aspect of the gig-economy is the male to female ratio of workers part of the gig economy. At a time when more women are entering the workforce and simultaneous movements for equality in all spheres are gaining momentum the world over, most studies point to the fact that the ratio of men to women is almost 50:50.

Some research has also attributed the increase in this form of employment to the 2007-08 world financial crisis. The sudden loss of secured employment busted long-held beliefs about full-time employment providing a security blanket against financial instability. This led many to look for short term gigs to manage their financial responsibilities. Parallelly, the increase in the penetration of the internet and uptick in the number of applications or websites that were easy to use, provided a platform to the freelance workforce to both showcase their abilities and find work.

The increase in the size of the gig-economy is not driven solely by the change in employee preferences. Employers too have played an equal role in its rise.

Firstly, employers can choose from a wide variety of eligible candidates. In India, over the course of 2018, 70 per cent of corporations surveyed have looked to the gig economy to supplement their workforce. Different aspects can be outsourced to independent contractors with relevant experience. It makes economic sense for a few, too. Almost 39 per cent corporations said the primary reason to hire from the pool of gig-workers was financial. Full-time compensation notwithstanding, corporations make additional savings on infrastructure at the same time boost productivity. Talk about bang for a buck!

Everything is not hunky-dory in the gig-ecosystem though. The single most important question that needs to be answered to enable this section of the economy to boost its numbers further is 'what constitutes an employee?' The answer to this question would settle issues related to minimum wage requirements. Arbitrary dismissals and the overall lack of safety nets to protect employers from exploiting employees still don't exist and if they do, are not enough. Uber, for example, has driven itself into troubled waters in many countries for what the local authorities or employees consider to be exploitative practices.

Employment legislation must reflect the changes occurring in the sections of the economy they are supposed to police. It is likely that this will happen and soon. But it must be done in a way that does not affect the single most important consideration of the gig-worker, flexibility. Forcing employers to adhere to strict regulations that will eventually be passed onto the employee must be avoided to ensure gig economy continues to grow.

It could be argued that gig-economy is an effective antidote to under-employment. An issue that is important to most of the developing world, especially in a country with a large population like India where at least 10 million new individuals are eligible for work every year.

In a world where jobs are disappearing due to automation, artificial intelligence and fine-tuning of corporate structures, the gig economy is a welcome relief. Not only can it provide for a large workforce, in fact, allowing sections of society that did not have access to economic opportunity either due to educational or social backgrounds, a ticket to economic security.

It is, in a small but significant way, returning the mantle of economic development to the most important unit in the process, the individual. Change – it's often for the good.

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