The gig economy is unleashing a flurry of creative classes who work as independent workers and are contracted on-demand by employers. If the right empowering schemes are in place, the gig workforce may very well be the next big thing in the world of work.
A strong gig economy proposition has the potential to elevate employment rates, boost economic growth and productivity, promote consumption for products and services, and prompt voluntarily unemployed segments to pursue convenient side hustles to improve their economic self-sufficiency.
These days, gig workers are enjoying a suite of attractive advantages, including an autonomous and flexible working schedule, in addition to their ability to pursue multiple projects at the same time. Talents are acquiring fascinating experiences by working with a range of varied employers in diverse sectors in order to advance their careers.
This unique arrangement can be a source of many competitive advantages for enterprises and individuals, who are able to call upon competent gig workers who are flexible and beckoned anytime according to preferred experiences, skill sets, and technical qualifications.
Last year, McKinsey released the American Opportunity Survey on independent work, estimating that independent workers (freelancers, contracts, temporary, or gig workers) make up around 36 per cent of the total American labour market, an increase from 28 per cent captured in a similar survey run in 2016.
Interestingly, 70 per cent of gig workers consider these jobs their primary sources of income, with the rest pursuing side projects to supplement their earnings.
Innovations in recent years have reimagined online marketplaces that serve as platforms for bringing together employers and gig workers. Platforms, such as Upwork of Guru.com, allow employers to hire gig workers for seasonal or short-term projects related to graphic design, writing, translation, or coding.
New avenues of employment
The most glaring examples of gig services have become quite ubiquitous in our daily lives, with people relying on transportation, food delivery, and product delivery apps. For instance, e-commerce platform Etsy allows creatives to sell a range of original and unique handcrafted items to eager buyers, such as paintings, toys, games, clothes, bags, home accessories, and jewellery.
Thinking and acting on gig economy in a proactive way has lately become even more pressing. With the MENA region’s unemployment rate reaching 10.6 per cent in 2021, according to the World Bank, it is an opportune time to find new avenues of employment via the gig economy.
The regional marketplace is already affirming its interest to hire gig workers. A recent survey released by Bayt.com last year, based on a sample of 1,764 respondents in various Arab countries, highlights this trend.
Upward of 70 per cent of regional employers surveyed are keen on hiring more freelancers. The payoffs are notable, with many citing unique advantages of doing so, such as faster delivery times, supplementing existing teams’ capacities, and finding it a cost-effective option.
The survey also identified a number of sectors that bode particularly well for freelancers, such as digital marketing, information technology, customer service, human resource, graphic design, and accounting, banking, and finance.
In fact, in case after case, 66 per cent of employers said they had offered full-time employment opportunities to freelancers, especially as they enabled companies to achieve greater performance levels.
On the other hand, gig workers also found this arrangement equally worthwhile, citing the extra income streams, ability to explore new career paths, hone new skills, and work on fulfilling projects. Centrally, more than 69 per cent of gig workers resorted to professional platforms to find such opportunities or job listings.
The MENA region’s creative classes can leverage the need for flexible staffing by employers, promising a significant boost to the gig economy as a whole. The gig edge can be encapsulated by creating MENA-focused online job marketplaces to bring together the networks of gig workers and employers in mutually beneficial projects.
Staple streams of outsourced jobs usually encompass the arts, research, programming, administration, writing and translation, accounting and finance, legal work, and marketing.
This flexibility also gives enterprises a recruitment edge by helping them to navigate through a specialised talent pool according to sector or task, ultimately posting reviews on specific gig workers.
Unique skills and experiences
Employers can then offer jobs or contracts with clear project expectations, submission dates, and renumerations. At the same time, talents can brand their unique skills and experiences, highlighting previously accomplished projects.
But there could be room for improvement as well. By tackling some of the challenges that gig workers are facing, governments could shape a more productive, happier, and resilient gig workforce. For instance, policymakers could advocate for fairer wages, setting minimum wage standards according to different jobs.
In practice, many gig workers would usually have to pay for their own unreimbursed business expenses, such as transportation, office space, tech equipment, and other miscellaneous expenses. Moreover, as earnings are subjected to seasonality or lack of thereof, it is also critical that regulations are put in place to protect gig workers from exploitation, such as late payments.
As the unique currency of gig workers is centrally skills-based, it is important to consider providing them with opportunities for continuous upskilling and reskilling programs, based on a list of the most sought-after skills demanded by enterprises.
Other tweaks could also consider empowering freelancers to enrol to national pension systems, be offered health insurance, and allow parents to take essential leaves — including maternity, paternity, and sick leaves.
More gig workers are tapping into their creative potential as enterprises welcome their inputs. The gig economy is certainly fertile ground for fuelling a bevy of economic and social benefits. For now, policymakers can expedite the realisation of this potential by empowering local freelancers.
Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and literature