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More Kiwis Working In The ‘Gig Economy’ Than Ever

More Kiwis Working In The ‘Gig Economy’ Than Ever

More Kiwis are combining a number of ‘gigs’ for work, rather than taking on a traditional full-time job, writes Eleisha McNeill in the fifth of her series The Future of Work.

29 October 2021

Kiwis demand flexible working hours and roles, and that’s created the latest employment trend: the ‘gig economy’.

An increasing number of people are choosing to leave full-time work in favour of multiple ‘gigs’ – working for a range of employers on a series of temporary jobs, or taking on one-off pieces of contract work, where and when it suits them.

Shortest ‘gig’ just one day

Bianca Jensen’s shortest freelance gig was one day, and her longest has been five months.

In the past two years, she’s taken on a range of roles, including data analyst, receptionist, stakeholder adviser, events co-ordinator, health and safety co-ordinator, and enrolments adviser.

“I love the energy and excitement the lead-up to a new role brings,” Jensen says.

“The opportunity to meet amazing people and learn different things is invaluable. And I love that if I don’t like a place or the people, I can move on.”

The gig economy isn’t just found here – it’s a global phenomenon. In Australia, 32 per cent of the workforce, or 4.1 million people, had freelanced during 2014 and 2015.

20 per cent in ‘gigs’ in US and Europe

In the US and Europe, an estimated 20 to 30 per cent of the working population are part of the gig economy. Seventy per cent of those surveyed by the McKinsey Global Institute said they were actively choosing to work this way.

Jensen has had a steady supply of work when she’s wanted it since she started freelancing a couple of years ago. Her roles have come through recruitment agencies.

Being able to choose the kinds of roles you take and when you take them works well for a wide range of people in different life situations.

Those first to take it up have been working parents, students, people wanting to ‘semi-retire’, or anyone wanting to supplement their income.

Talent war starts

The gig economy is putting pressure on businesses to attract and keep workers. The trend coincides with baby boomers leaving the workforce, and shifts in how workers change jobs.

An Institute of Directors survey rated this ‘war for talent’ as the biggest internal risk to organisations.

And ironically, it means many firms will need to adapt their hiring practices to employ more people part-time or for a specific contract.

Project manager Kate Antonievich recently started freelancing.

“I’d always been a permanent employee, and I reached a point that the things that used to be so important about permanent employment – job security and so on – ceased to matter to me any more. I went contracting,” she says.

Contracts offer freedom

Antonievich says diversity and interest in a project or piece of work is what drives her now.

“Contracting gives a sense of freedom, a sense that you’re more in control of what you’re doing and when,” she says.

“Contracting means I can follow the interesting change projects rather than being stuck in one role, in one organisation.”

There are downsides to being part of the gig economy, though. There’s been a lot of press around Uber, which puts freelance drivers directly in touch with customers who want a ride and takes a cut of the profits, but doesn’t guarantee a minimum wage to its drivers.

There’s no job security or stability for freelancers – and no holiday or sick pay.

Managers need different skills

Antonievich says there also can be costs when a team is composed entirely of freelancers or contractors.

She says a lack of management training for some professional contractors moving into management roles can result in people problems.

“They don’t necessarily understand what it means to build morale and engagement with staff.

“You need to be careful in teams where there are a lot of people there for a short, often intense time, that you don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re working with people, not machines,” she says.

What about your dream job?

There’s also a risk that you’ll find your dream job.

“I don’t enjoy leaving colleagues I like,” says Jensen. “And it’s hard when you love a place and want to stay, but there’s no budget or need for you to stay on.

“If I did find a role I love and that I could grow into again, I’d definitely consider going permanent, despite all the flexibility freelancing offers.”

First published 5 July, 2018

Story by Eleisha McNeill

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