The 2020-21 Union Budget formally recognized the gig economy, adding jet fuel to a fire that has been burning steadily for a while now. The rapid growth of this sector is a testament to the trailblazing potential of the Indian gig worker.
Like all great revolutions, India’s now-mighty gig economy comes from modest beginnings. Freelancers and gig workers were primarily used by companies to fill temporary positions, perform expendable tasks, and reduce costs. But companies today have begun to recognize gig workers for what they truly are — a way to go-to-market faster, grow fulfilment capabilities rapidly with customer demand, be more agile and reduce business risks.
Virtually limitless opportunities
India has a working-age population of over 500 million — the largest in the world. While freelancers have mostly been white-collared in the past, the untapped opportunity lies in introducing India’s 300 Million blue and grey-collared workers to the gig model.
The gig model allows companies to grow throughput while staying lean. Gig platforms built specifically for the B2B2C context need to rise up and power companies in industries like e-commerce, BFSI, retail, hospitality, manufacturing, insurance, healthcare – industries that are yet to experience the full power of gig.
Back in the 1990s, when the software industry made a shift from ‘on-premise’ to ‘Software as a Service’, the chain reaction of innovation was game-changing. Pricing models evolved, ideas of software ownership changed, and the size of a hard drive stopped mattering. As digital transformation was democratized, the rate of innovation and ease of business grew.
We now stand at the cusp of another paradigm shift. A shift from a full-time employment model to a task-based model of engagement. This shift will change the way we look at the workforce, the way we look at salary and payment models. The size of a company will start being measured less by the strength of its employee base and more by its throughput and productivity. With every disruption there will be opportunities for innovators to help companies transition, and for companies themselves to change the status quo and get ahead of the competition.
A formidable set of challenges
Migrating to the gig model is an organizational transformation. Changes will have to be made in the way new hires are assessed, onboarded, trained, and managed. Existing systems of time and attendance, forecasting, scheduling, employee productivity and labour tracking will need to evolve to work with gig employees. Internationally, entrepreneurs have already started capitalizing on the opportunity. This is a huge challenge, but also an opportunity for new service models to emerge. Shyftplan in Germany helps companies automate the planning and allocation of shifts. Legion, an AI-powered workforce management solution in the USA, helps companies forecast and optimize their workforce needs. Coople, in Switzerland, helps companies hire blue and grey-collared workers and automate their management across tasks. In India, too, there are a number of platforms, helping companies find gig workers at scale and automate the entire gig employee lifecycle. In the coming times, gig platforms will need to take greater ownership of outcomes and processes.
On-demand gig staffing means creating a perfect match between job and worker in the shortest possible period of time. Intelligently matching gig workers to jobs calls for the application of emerging technologies like AI, coupled with a thorough analysis of each worker’s knowledge, skills, and competencies. Innovators face the challenge of creating a ‘skills passport’ of sorts, that helps to easily and quickly map workers to a task and enables speedy transfers between jobs. While companies like TurboHire in India and Pymetrics in the USA have taken huge leaps in leveraging AI to improve the hiring of permanent employees, AI in gig staffing is still waiting for meaningful innovation.
From the workers’ perspective, multiple innovations are needed in the gig arena. For one, if the gig worker does not stand to make a stable and healthy income, the gig economy will collapse. Also, simply aggregating the existing gig workforce and helping them find more work is not a complete solution. It omits India’s unemployed and underemployed, a vast sector of people who can unleash the full potential of the gig economy. India’s widening skill gap already sees demand for workers far outpacing supply. While 90% of jobs are skilled in nature, less than 2% of the workforce has received formal technical training, and less than 6% has received informal training. Bridging this demand and supply gap by building upskilling and reskilling capabilities into gig platforms is a massive area of opportunity for entrepreneurs. This could enable workers to expand their skillsets, meet the industry’s demand, pick up more gigs, and increase their earning potential.
The Stage is Set
A decade ago, this type of paradigm shift wouldn’t be possible. But today, with rapid advances in AI, big-data analytics, and technology penetration, the stage could not be more set. The lights of opportunity are bright. The camera is focused on change. All that remains now is for companies to adopt this new model of work — to take action.
Dr. Gayathri Vasudevan is the Chairperson of LabourNet Services