Building awareness of the varied nature of the GIG economy

Joe English
Meath Economic & Enterprise Team

The GIG economy is becoming a fascinating area to research and comment upon. When I first proposed this project my focus, like many others, was on the bleak picture of Deliveroo riders and UBER drivers. Across the media and public policy arenas there has been a lot of discussion about the 'GIG economy, and a uniformly 'bleak picture' has been painted. However as one begins to scratch the surface it becomes readily apparent that there is enormous diversity across what is an extremely productive and valuable sector. Research is needed to understand how this growing and dynamic sector actually works and contributes to the economy.

Labour market dynamics are shifting rapidly, driven by technological progress and globalization, with many organizations no longer offering fixed contracts. Meanwhile, surprisingly little is known about the realities of ‘gig work’. Is it a liberating new form of self-employment or a new form of exploitation? There is a growing need to reflect on how society deals with these changes in a manner that prepares, protects and educates our working people, businesses and society in general.
At first, the term ‘gig’ was commonly used to refer to musicians who would play wherever they could, going from place to place to get paid for their performance. Today’s gig economy represents an environment in which temporary positions are common and organisations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements. Individuals who work as freelancers sell their work on a task to task basis. The gig economy is a spectrum. At one end workers are poorly paid, have few rights and have no financial and therefore life security. Their lives are described as precarious. At the other end of the spectrum there are project workers and freelancers who are self-employed by choice and command higher annual incomes than they would if they were full-time employees. For some businesses the introduction of freelance expertise allows them to experiment and ultimately to innovate, there is evidence that this process is an engine for the creation of entirely new full-time jobs.
What are the long-term effects for individuals and society in general? How do universities prepare their students for this new economy? How do communities prepare their workers and young people for this new reality? The European Commission has recently contracted with an EU consortium - led by Irish partners - of regional authorities, education providers, business development agencies and civil society partners to examine this emerging phenomenon and begin the process of answering the questions posed above.
The project team will undertake the research and development associated with the project. The aim is to design initiatives which will help educators, local authorities, employers, workforce representatives, central government and others to adapt their programmes and policies to mitigate the potentially negative effects of the gig economy and to maximise its positive aspects. Being keenly aware of the need to harvest the existing knowledge base in the wider community and world of work ecosystem a team of advisers will be recruited to guide and valorise the findings of the study.

The initial part of this project will focus on four main areas:
1. Gain an understanding on the current 'state-of-play' of the GIG economy, primarily through a literature review
2. Understand the current public perception of the GIG economy, primarily through a deep dive into current media coverage. (this is extremely important as policy makers can be influenced to a large extent by media coverage).
3. Review the economic and social 'think-tank' view of the GIG economy - centre for Research on Self Employment (CRSE) etc.
4. Interviews with academics - primarily in the entrepreneurial space - to understand how universities and business schools are responding to the new way of working.