The so-called gig economy may have attracted controversy but the latest figures show that more people are finding employment through it than ever before. Jobs advertised on websites such as PeoplePerHour, Upwork and Freelancer have rocketed by 14 per cent since May, according to figures released by the Online Labour Index.
The growth of these online employment platforms has been driven by the rising demand for short-term, piecemeal or project work, with a pool of freelancers ready and able to take on new jobs via the internet.
Some of those taking work on via these sites said they could get more reliable work than before such platforms existed, and at better rates; however, other workers have found that freelance websites and the broader gig economy simply result in precarious employment and ever lower pay rates.
The Online Labour Index, which exists specifically to measure the changing trends of the gig economy, is the brainchild of the Oxford Internet Institute. Its latest study showed a nine per cent rise in online job postings on freelancer websites between May and September 2015. The UK saw the fastest level of growth at 14 per cent, compared with Europe as a whole at 7.5 per cent and the US at just six per cent.
Analysis showed that the jobs mix spanned big employers and those posted by individuals for one-off pieces. These included everything from businesses that wanted to outsource parts of a project to people who wanted help with design skills for a next-day presentation.
The freelance websites distribute work online and pay freelancers directly. Workers are given ratings, which are used to match them up with appropriate future opportunities. Some sites, such as PeoplePerHour, require freelancers to apply for opportunities via a bid system; others, such as Copify, assign work according to user profile and rating.
In terms of postings, over half come from the US (52 per cent), with the UK in second position at just over six per cent. India is at number three at 5.9 per cent and Australia has 5.7 per cent of the postings. When employee numbers within country are factored in, however, Britain had near parity with the US. If the market continues to grow, the researchers behind the study believe there will be a “40 per cent growth in the number of online jobs advertised within the year.
This is striking when compared with the conventional labour market, which is remaining broadly stagnant in both the UK and the US and may even contract as Britain works through the Brexit process.
Although the rise in online job postings seems positive on the face of it, the gig economy has attracted criticism for its low-skilled and low-paid jobs, which are not guaranteed and offer no benefits to workers. The largest category of jobs in the online gig economy is technology and software development, followed by multimedia, creative, clerical and data entry roles. This excludes delivery company jobs, which are not carried out entirely online.
As to whether the gig economy is ultimately a good thing for Britain’s workers, the jury is out for the time being. Individual feedback seems to vary greatly, but one thing is for sure – this type of job is here to stay.
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