Recent research by the University of Hertfordshire indicates that 4.4 million people in England and Wales work for gig economy platforms at least once a week. As the world embraces remote working in the post-pandemic era, more businesses are rethinking the way they source talent. While gig work is often associated with the B2C world, the fluidity of working life means businesses are increasingly turning to these platforms.
The idea that the gig economy is a service of convenience is not a new one. In its list of top-20 gig economy jobs, CareerAddict lists everything from rideshare and food delivery driving to pet sitting as ways to make some extra income. Similarly, whenever we hear of gig platforms, this evokes memories of the likes of Uber and Deliveroo.
If the last two years taught us anything, it’s that perceptions change. For example, before the pandemic, remote working was the exception, but overnight it became the rule. Similarly, the gig economy is far more than an assembly line for pizzas or a way of getting dog walked — it’s a valuable resource, a flexible solution for businesses around the world. Therefore, we must change the way we perceive its value.
Identifying a need
The shortage of technical skills is no secret and has plighted business owners for years, if not decades. According to TechNation, there were over two million UK job vacancies in tech last year, more than any other area. The reason? A lack of essential digital skills. Former education minister Michelle Donelan even committed that: “Employers both large and small are crying out for more people to be trained in digital skills.”
Initiatives like boot camps, apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships are all admirable, but can only go so far in closing the gap. As well as taking several years to fully train new people in-house, those working in highly technical areas such as biotechnology, require specialists with advanced qualifications and who already have several years’ experience under their belts.
Take this example. A start-up is seeking medical device consulting services for either an FDA or an EU Medical Device Regulations (MDR) submission to help get its product to market successfully. During the tender process, the product team may stipulate that the consultant must have previously worked on similar submissions or, at least, has prior experience with the regulations.
Enter the Expert Economy
A report by AON claimed that 26 per cent of European HR directors believe that 51-75 per cent of the workforce will be gig workers in five years’ time, while 18 per cent of UK counterparts thought that at least three quarters of their workforce would be contractors in five years’ time.
With remote and hybrid working the norm for many businesses, we now live in the age of the “digital nomad” — employees can apply their skills no matter where they are in the world and make a living without having to physically travel to work. If we combine this with the fact the STEM skills shortage is already costing UK businesses £1.5 billion a year, it’s no wonder more entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the freedom that gig platforms offer.
The idea of the gig economy being a blue-collar B2C service is rapidly becoming outdated. As more businesses plan their remote working futures, the erstwhile gig economy of contractors and skilled workers is being replaced by an expert economy made-up of subject matter experts and industry leaders.
Scientific and academic businesses are the ones that will benefit from this shift, with a rapid influx of experts, researchers, content writers and other specialists rebranding themselves as available for flexible hire.
A Mutually Beneficial Arrangement
The gig economy is now a very real, very effective solution for the B2B sector. There are both demand- and supply-side benefits of this shift towards the expert economy, which so often go unappreciated. As mentioned, businesses can draw upon this expertise for specific projects, using it to test their theories, put them into practice and then write up the results.
Meanwhile, more people are shifting from academia and industry to freelancing, in order to gain greater flexibility and control over their work schedules. Freelancing enables these specialists to choose which projects they work on, also when and where — something traditional in-house roles often won’t allow.
Where Do We Go From Here?
50 of the UK’s biggest employers have already said they have no plans to return all staff to the office full-time in the near future, so flexibility is clearly here to stay.
In my experience, companies hiring freelancers for the first time often experience initial hurdles — getting the necessary HR policies in place, adjusting payroll processes and factoring contract employees into recruitment strategies. Once businesses owners overcome these challenges, it becomes easier to hire a second, third or however many external specialists.
Business culture is critical and so is preparing inhouse teams for working with freelancers. Is the team used to working with freelancers? If not, it’s important to set parameters and to specify the scope of the freelancer’s role as early as possible to reassure permanent staff. It’s easy to overlook these subtle measures, but they’re just as important for the onboarding process as any contract signing or formality.
Remote working is here to stay and, with nearly four and a half million people working for gig economy platforms each week, business owners can take advantage of their newfound flexibility by securing talent from all over the globe.
By tapping into the growing expert economy, platforms like Kolabtree are moving beyond the B2C sphere to provide specialist skills for business across a wide range of highly technical industries.