By Aisling McCarthy

Usually synonymous with musicians looking for an opportunity to play, the term ‘gig’ is now also associated with the rise of businesses cropping up to facilitate the exchange of goods and services between individuals using various technology platforms.

What is the gig economy?

Although buzzwords such as ‘contingent workers’ and ‘freelancers’ have been around the writing world for years, the gig economy describes the way in which the future of employment is moving. Writers and journalists, as well as people offering other skills, are connected to employers through online ‘talent hubs’.

The major difference of the gig economy from traditional freelancing or contractual work is the increased amount of flexibility and transparency.

Grant Bergman, co-founder of one such ‘online talent hub’, getTOD (Get Tasks on Demand), says that traditional freelancing means that candidates often have to go into the office in order to complete a particular job, but the gig economy offers far more freedom.

“Freelancers can now work from wherever they like, whenever they like and for whoever they like. Timing of jobs is often more spontaneous and apps and websites now automatically connect people in real time to deliver on requirements.”

Transparency is a key element which makes the gig economy attractive to both sides, as job seekers state the rate they are looking to earn and companies state what they are willing to pay. Public rating systems are also utilised, so freelancers are rewarded with a good rating for a job well done – making them more ‘employable’ in future.

According to Bergman, the gig economy is extremely attractive as it offers opportunities to all sorts of people. Although incredibly popular with millennials, the gig economy does not exclude anyone – even allowing homemakers or retired persons the option to work on their own schedules from wherever they like.

“Millennials and non-millennials that had previously not had access to work now do. Mobile devices and the internet are becoming more well-known and this, coupled with the improved user interfaces which are much more user friendly and easy to use, means that anyone can access the gig economy.”

Is South Africa ready for a freelance economy?

It is and it isn’t. Numerous local businesses have their finger on the global freelance pulse, but often tend to use international ‘giggers’ for projects due to the lack of access to local freelancers.

Considering that South Africa’s unemployment rate was sitting at 27.1% as of July 2016, Bergman believes that the gig economy will help to bring that number down substantially, especially with South Africa’s high mobile phone penetration.

“Those who did not previously have the benefit of a strong CV or an education can still offer their services and we hope that this will not only lead to more equity, but also to up-skilling of the labour force. The whole system then becomes self-fulfilling and more skilled people participate in the economy.”

Founder of Flux Trends, Dion Chang, echoes this sentiment, saying that as the global trajectory of the gig economy has led to a huge increase in job opportunities becoming available. However, he says that the problem with this freelance economy in South Africa is twofold.

“On the one hand, it’s a tech thing, and on the other, it’s a labour law thing that are proving to be problematic.”

Firstly, internet connectivity is an issue, as not everyone has reliable access. Without this, freelancers are unable to participate in the gig economy. Chang says that shared workspaces are cropping up in and around Johannesburg to combat this problem.

“You get informal [shared spaces] which I always refer to as ‘coffices’ – coffee offices, but you’re starting to see a formalisation of that … which will help if people don’t have access to [internet].”

The other problem South Africa will face, Chang points out, is the lack of labour legislation geared towards freelancers. We live in a country full of workers’ unions and they will say that freelancers need to be protected. The question, which Uber exists within, is “are they freelancers or are they employees?”

Getting ahead in the gig economy

If you’re planning to leave the corporate world, or want to supplement your income by doing some ‘gigs’, there are numerous elements to keep in mind to be successful. However, if you’ve worked as a freelancer, then it’s not much of a leap, as the principals are much the same.

Chang says that if you don’t go looking for work, it won’t just land in your lap. However, once you establish a profile and gain some experience, jobs may come looking for you, but he insists that looking for work is an ongoing thing.

“You can never just assume that the work’s going to come pouring in, no matter what level of journalist you are. There are always going to be dry patches.”

Getting to grips with being your own PR is another important element to remember, according to Roy Clark, MD of Clarkhouse Human Capital. He says freelancers must become an expert in whatever they are passionate about, and then market themselves as such. Success in this rising trend boils down to presence, both online and off. Self-marketing, self-promotion and networking are all key.

Leaving a “full time” job also opens freelancers up to a huge amount of admin – chasing money, ensuring invoices are sent on time and, most importantly, investing for a rainy day.

“People that have never been gig workers are going to find it a bit of a struggle to have to fend for themselves,” says Chang, “You’ve got to make sure you have all the stop-gaps and insurance protection in place.”

Whether we like it or not, the gig economy is heading our way and our choices are to embrace it, or to cling to the few 9-5’s that will be left. Clark, says, “Both positives and negatives will stem from a [gig economy], but one thing is for certain – it’s happening and it’s happening fast.”

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*Image courtesy of Thinkstock