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The Gig Economy could help SA’s economy recover from the coronavirus The Gig Economy could help SA’s economy recover from the coronavirus
Scarce permanent employment can be addressed by temporary contracts filled by gig workers as SA recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gig Economy could help SA’s economy recover from the coronavirus

The concept of a “Gig Economy” could help South African workers find their feet again after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. It is a notion whereby individuals find temporary employment in line with their capabilities, working only for as long as their skills are needed.

The idea has been doing the rounds for a while now: it’s defined as a labour market made up of people willing to do short-term contract work as and when it’s needed rather than being employed in regular 9-5 jobs. It’s a convenient way for workers to earn a living while easing the salary load of the companies that temporarily employ them.

That’s going to be needed once the COVID-19 pandemic ends. The virus has wreaked serious economic havoc so far, causing companies to reduce the scope of their work, cut staff salaries, or close altogether as countries have been locked down to prevent the virus from spreading. This has left many people around the world unemployed, and many countries’ economies in tatters.

And as companies have seen the benefits first-hand of having staff work from home during the lockdown, and closely examined their own internal practices to see where costs can be further cut and processes streamlined, there’s no guarantee that the number of jobs available before lockdown will once again open up when it ends.

This is where the gig economy comes in: temporary workers may find new opportunities available to them as companies turn to temporary employment to fill skills gaps while they find their feet again post-pandemic. It could even help people find new jobs while they’re in lockdown.

Facilitated by Technology

The rise of the gig economy has been largely thanks to technology, which has allowed people to create digital platforms that match job-seekers with employers online.

ICT veteran Adrian Schofield told ITWeb in an article published earlier this year that “The gig economy is today’s phrase for a sector that has existed for centuries – short-term work opportunities for those who are available and have the requisite skills. Technology can make it function more efficiently, in the same way that technology enabled ride-hailing to impact the taxi industry.”

In the same article, investment analyst at Mergence Investment Managers Lulama Qongqo said that the gig economy has the potential to lift “a significant amount of people without formal education out of poverty.”

This is because the technology that provides access to job opportunities within the gig economy levels the playing field – getting the job becomes more about what the worker can deliver versus who they know. Furthermore, South Africa enjoys significant mobile phone penetration, putting access to such platforms in the hands of millions of people across the population spectrum.

She adds that faster and more reliable internet is key, as is falling data prices, as these factors contribute significantly to the ease of accessibility of the available online platforms.

The Gig Economy Supported by IDC

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, market research and analytics firm IDC had been punting the benefits of the gig economy, saying how it could help the South African government to address the country’s unemployment situation.

Jon Tullett, senior research manager for cloud and IT services at IDC, told ITWeb at the time that the gig economy makes it easier for temporary workers to access employers, and for employers to “tap into flexible labour pools”.

There is some concern over these “gigs” enabling employers to abuse employees, however. Temporary workers aren’t afforded protections like permanent ones are, like UIF, retirement, or medical aid benefits. Consensus online appears to be that governments must step in to make the digital economy fairer to all involved.

Even so, the opportunities of the “gig economy” are vast, and people with strongly entrepreneurial spirits stand to find it invaluable in their search for temporary employment.

How to find a “gig”

Gigs are usually found by seeking out Facebook groups that offer freelance work for particular skillsets, and signing up with online services that offer to link gig-seekers with potential employers.

Here are some sites to start your search on:

And who knows, temporary work could turn into permanent employment if that’s what you want (and you play your cards right).

If not, there’s always the next gig…. and therein lies the beauty.

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