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The growing gig economy

Sep 14, 2017
The gig economy may be getting a bad press in 2017 but business managers at global companies are being urged to understand it better after research suggested the practice will only grow in future. Lisa Johnson, of Crown World Mobility, explains.

Whilst some industries, such as oil and gas, have a long history of supporting external ‘gig’ employees, it is the adoption of the practice by start-ups like Deliveroo and Uber that has caused controversy and fuelled interest in the practice.

Much of the debate in the media has been about a lack of security and rights for those working on zero hours contracts. However, the focus in future should be on how to attract highly-skilled workers into temporary posts – and how to support them.

The news agenda has lingered on negatives, but the gig economy refers in general to a work environment where temporary contract positions are common and companies use independent workers to fill short-term engagements. The focus in global mobility should be on how to support a growing and independent talent pool which could be crucial to business development in the future.

A recent Intuit study predicts that by 2020 up to 40% of US workers will be independent contractors – and you’d expect that figure to be replicated in other markets too. Companies will have to do more to attract young talent with desirable skillsets in future as more and more workers choose to maintain a self-employed status. I haven’t yet seen data for the UK, or other parts of the world, but there is little doubt that the trend is growing.

The issue of ‘perma-temps’, where companies don’t want to fully commit to hiring a full-time employee, adds confusion to the numbers. But the feeling in global mobility is that Generation Y and Z are increasingly enticed by the freedom the gig economy can provide.

There are complications in store, however. The debate around zero hours contracts has been intense, while the issue of liability has yet to be resolved. This is a murky one. Is a corporation liable for gig workers or are they liable for themselves? And will countries develop visas to allow for the movement of contract employees? Whatever the answers, it is certainly a challenge for compliance.

It also means that a company’s focus in future may be on the skills that workers have to offer rather than on their long-term career – and that’s a big change in global mobility where international assignments are often seen as part of the leadership ladder. As more and more workers enter the gig economy, the discussions surrounding it may well change. The big discussion may be about how businesses can compete effectively for independent global talent rather than how they exploit them. Certainly, the issue isn’t going away – so global mobility managers need to get to grips with it as soon as possible.

Lisa Johnson

Lisa is Global Practice Leader, Consulting Services, at Crown World Mobility, a global company which helps corporations manage global talent. She has more than 20 years of experience in the industry and has been with Crown since 2012.

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