We may now have greater clarity on the government’s plans to exit the EU, but this hasn’t dispelled much of the uncertainty felt by businesses. With potential impacts on trade and the availability of much-needed skills from abroad, there’s a feeling of being in limbo, unsure of what’s going to happen and how to prepare.
At the same time, businesses are faced with the rapid rise of the gig economy and the changes it’s bringing to employment and working practices across the country. The government and many employers are playing catch up, unsure of how this new way of working fits into the employment landscape, and how it should be regulated.
But rather than seeing the gig economy as a threat, it’s time we saw it as an opportunity, with the potential to revolutionise the workplace, employment and even help us survive post-Brexit. Providing a flexible, mobile and often highly-skilled army of workers, the gig economy could be just what our businesses need.
A snapshot of the gig economy
A recent report by McKinsey estimates that between 20 and 30% of the working age population are engaging in some form of independent work, with just under half (44%) relying on it for their primary income, while 56% use it to supplement their salary.
And while the term ‘gig economy’ may conjure images of low-paid, exploited workers, with no security and employment rights, for three quarters (74%), it’s actually their preferred way of working. They relish being their own boss, having control over their hours and feel more creative and engaged as a result.
Skills for an unpredictable world
From a business perspective, tapping into the gig economy gives employers the agility to compete in an unpredictable world, something that is all the more important with Brexit on the horizon. With the ability to hire quality talent at short notice, businesses can upskill as and when they need to, without the commitment and cost of full-time workers.
It also offers a solution to the skills shortages already being felt across a number of industries, and that could be compounded by Brexit. With an army of on-demand gig workers available from across the globe, and the technology to facilitate remote working, this could be a viable option for a variety of industries.
Reviving employment outside London
The gig economy also has the potential to bring new employment opportunities to diverse areas across the country, particularly those suffering from the long-term decline in manufacturing; just the sorts of areas that led the Brexit vote.
Now technology enables individuals to work from anywhere, location is no longer a factor in making a living. With greater investment in the right training and new skills, plus more government-private partnerships to invest in infrastructure and connectivity, gig working could hold the key to rebalancing the economy away from the London ‘bubble’.
Flexible opportunities for economically inactive individuals
UK employment is at its highest level for years and post-Brexit Britain needs it to stay that way. Research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) found that seven out of ten unemployed and economically inactive individuals – such as carers, retirees, stay-at-home parents and those with health or mobility issues – would re-enter the workforce if they could do so flexibly.
I’ve seen first-hand the benefits gig working offers to parents – primarily mums - enabling them to re-enter the workforce on their own terms after having a baby. In fact, research by the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) found that one in seven of all UK freelancers are now working mums - a massive 70% rise since 2008. These opportunities boost the economy, but can also be life-changing.
Addressing the negative
The gig economy is not a perfect system and many of the negative reports raise real issues that must be addressed. I for one am looking forward to hearing the Taylor Review's conclusions on how the gig economy can be made to work for everyone – business, consumers and individuals.
But in these uncertain times, we need to be bold. Jobs and the workplace are changing irreversibly. We all need to change with them.
Alice Weightman is founder and CEO of The Work Crowd