Gig economy has arrived in India. Free agents or freelancers who would like to work part-time around other responsibilities, or as a supplement to their regular full-time job, are powering this on-demand economy. We are witnessing the adoption of this work-style across generations—X, Y, baby-boomers and even among the silent generation. With lakhs of freelancers already operating in the market via online marketplaces, India could emerge as a leading destination for this shared economy model of employment in the Asia-Pacific.
A gig economy, in simple words, is an environment in which temporary positions are common and organisations contract with independent workers for short-term engagements.
The 2015 Global Free Agent Research by Kelly Services shows nearly a third of workers globally consider themselves freelancers. The numbers are rising, and now comprise 34% of the workforce in the Asia-Pacific, 31% in the US, and 27% in Europe. These freelancers are independent by choice and chose to be part of gig economy driven by the freedom and flexibility the work-style affords. They are highly-educated and skilled—70% of freelancers in the APAC possess a professional or technical skill-set, meaning they are freelancers by choice.
Gig economy in India is being fuelled by start-ups. Cab hailing apps have lowered the entry barrier for a high-paying gig, as practically anyone who can drive can sign up on the platform. Start-ups are powering the gig economy by hiring talent across technology, marketing, finance and HR on freelance or need-basis. IT companies are opening roles for moonlighters, freelance consultants on non-mission critical parts of projects or as part of larger development efforts on one-off basis.
Gig, the way forward
Gig economy can be the answer to talent supply chain challenges faced by professional or technology sectors. While critical roles would still be in realm of regular employment, freelancers can reduce the burden on the supply chain, while increasing operational efficiencies and reducing costs on projects. It could also be the answer to acute shortage of talent in the pharmaceuticals sector, particularly bio-pharma. Attracting and retaining top talent has been a consistent challenge not just for Indian, but even global pharma companies. Already in the US, an increasing number of highly-skilled life-sciences workers are choosing gigs. Indian pharma companies should take a cue. SMEs can tap into a global talent pool that can give them a leg up over larger rivals employing a traditional workforce. The cost benefits are lucrative, employers need not pay for health insurance, provident fund, gratuity, etc, besides savings in training and infrastructure costs.
The advantages are aplenty for the workforce too, and not just the employers, as they can pick and choose the gigs they want to work on. This means their skills will be current while retaining flexibility and autonomy, and avoiding the occupational hazards of a regular job. In effect, freelancers can operate as entrepreneurs. More importantly, they can have a work-life balance few can dream of. However, a freelancer’s work life is fraught with uncertainties as compared to a traditional employee. So, freelancers entering the gig economy should be ready with a do-it-yourself, disruptive attitude.
The world over, governments are trying to figure out size, scale and loopholes associated with the gig economy, particularly against the background of unionisation and regular protests demanding regularisation or extension of benefits akin to traditional employees. Sooner or later, regulation for this shared economy is imminent. What will be the counters of such legislation is the moot question? As key economies grapple with jobless growth, gig economy can be a redeemer. But the fact remains that, in India, freelancing as an employment option has not yet penetrated the rural landscape. Any regulation that would lead to the rise of a gig economy in rural areas would be a step in the right direction.
The initial signs look good as large government-aided agencies like NASA have taken to crowdsourcing talent for ambitious space projects. In India, the Union government hired freelancers to digitisation of documents as part of the Digital India initiative.
Gig economy is cutting across generations, is no longer restricted to the services sector and raking in high value gigs. It has arrived and is here to stay.
The author is managing director, Kelly Services, a provider of workforce solutions that founded the temporary staffing industry