Guest post: What is the gig economy?


In this guest post Esther Galvalvi discussed the growth of the gig economy. I’d urge people to get involved with her important research in this area.

The media has tended to use the term “gig economy” to refer to digital platforms like Uber, Deliveroo, and Taskrabbit, where people can work on a short term, free lance basis through apps on their phones.  However, any online platform that allows people to participate in commerce, where people can opt in and opt out at will (on a “gig” basis), could be thought of as belonging to the gig economy.  People are busily making work for themselves on platforms like Ebay, Etsy, and Airbnb, effectively acting as their own employers.  (Different rules apply to Ebay and Etsy, however; no one is checking when you clock in, or how fast you respond; labour platforms like Uber and Deliveroo tend to control worker behaviour a lot more.) 

People involved in platform work find themselves at the crest of a wave of exciting new technology that could afford a great deal of flexibility and freedom – but risk being dragged under by the lack of security and worker protections.  On a policy level, some clear decision-making will be critical to make sure that the people who work on them have a reasonable safety net to protect them in times of difficulty. 

All this is a challenge for careers advisers, because we are learning about these new technologies at the same time that people are being exposed to them.  Young people in particular are at the forefront of the wave; a large proportion of workers in the UK gig economy are under 35.  Gig economy work could afford them a great deal of flexibility and opportunity if they are struggling to fund further education, or want a boost to their CV.  But with so much at stake with their exams, the cost for young people could be high if they overdo it

It is unfeasible for careers advisers to know the ins and outs of every platform, but we should at least know roughly how platforms work and what the key issues are, both in terms of risks and opportunities.  These could include

  • worker rights law
  • time management
  • how to critically evaluate platforms and their practices
  • depending on the platform, the basic skills to build a business 

My PhD project at University of Derby is about young people’s involvement in the online gig economy.  I want to find out to what extent young people are already thinking about or even using these technologies – and if they are using anything we haven’t even thought about yet!  The first phase is a survey of careers professionals who work with 16-19 year olds.  If you belong in this group, I would be grateful if you could take 10 minutes to fill it in.

Complete the survey

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