How the emergence of India’s gig economy bodes well for everyone

A rapidly growing startup ecosystem, the unconventional work approach of Gen Y and Z, the pandemic, and the recent emergence of freelance platforms have propelled participation in the gig workforce.
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On a bright Monday morning, 27-year-old Shikha from Kolkata is on her way to work. She is in charge of doing background checks for an organisation for the week. She has her tasks lined up for the next week too - delivering gift hampers for an event management company. The opportunity to dabble in multiple roles makes Shikha swell with excitement!

On the other side of the country, 40-year-old Vijay Patel from Gujarat is on his way to an auditing job. Vijay, like thousands of Indians, lost his job during the pandemic and is now earning his bread and butter by undertaking temporary jobs and choosing projects that allow him to earn as much as possible.

Meet Shikha and Vijay, who are among the growing number of professionals forming the ‘gig squad’. So, what exactly is it? The gig squad?

The answer is pretty straightforward. Rather than being employed with one company, gig professionals work on recurring tasks for many organisations at the same time. Officially termed ‘gig employment’, it refers to any sort of labour in which talent is compensated for a specific job, project, or time period. Diverse employees with several sources of income, contract workers, freelancers, and moonlighters all fall under this category.

Until a few years ago, the gig economy landscape in India was frowned upon by the traditional workforce. And while part-time work has always been part of the ecosystem, the scale was marginal, and enterprises offloaded little of their business operations.

With sporadic opportunities and measly pay, ‘gig’ was perceived more as a secondary/part-time source of income. But like every trend waiting to become a phenomenon, the gig economy too witnessed a disruption over the last five-odd years, especially escalating during the pandemic of 2020.

Today, 84 percent of talent managers in APAC - the highest in the world - are known to hire gig workers. Around 50 percent of projects with startups, major corporations, and professional services have indicated strategy, technology, and marketing as the top three talents in demand to offload work to gig workers.

Personal transportation, last-mile deliveries, and at-home personal services have been the most conspicuous areas of activity in India's gig economy with startups in the mobility, food aggregators, and inter-city logistics sector being key participants.

Turning the wheel

In India, the gig economy has picked up pace over the past three to four years. A rapidly growing startup ecosystem, the unconventional work approach of Gen Y and Z, the pandemic, and the recent emergence of freelance platforms have propelled participation in the gig workforce.

Today, work is offloaded faster and at lower prices to gig partners, thereby improving cost-effectiveness of firm operations. Gig workforce platforms have also enabled partners to reskill or upskill in response to on-demand skill requirements, landing bigger assignments for the former.

In addition to that, growth prospects, flexibility, a better work-life balance – they are all leading millennials and Gen Z to choose freelancing over corporate work cultures.

On the other hand, over 122 million Indians lost their jobs during the pandemic, pushing them towards the gig economy, thereby finding opportunity in adversity.

It’s a win-win

Among a plethora of benefits, some key ones for gig partners include a higher rate of pay and the opportunity to make more money by undertaking multiple roles.

Additionally, the power to maintain work-life balance and personal wellbeing as freelancing opportunities offer more flexibility and control over working hours. With platforms offering skilling and training programmes, gig partners can also continuously upskill themselves and go on to select meaningful work assignments.

For instance, Priya, a 32-year-old postgraduate from Mumbai, was working as a manager for a high-end salon. Post delivering a baby, Priya found herself torn between dedicating her time to the newborn baby and contributing towards house expenses. In a tryst with a home services company, Priya was able to take up gigs in her area without having to commit any minimum hours , which allowed her to tend to her infant and earn at the same time.

The road towards ‘gigification’

The full potential of the gig economy can only be realised by working within a framework of favourable and suitable legislation and public policies that allow markets to flourish.

This entails putting in place procedures such as providing worker safety, facilitating a seamless job search, and ensuring that the longer-term goals of workforce development are met.

Today, the gig economy has the potential to transact over $250 billion in volume of work and contribute 1.25 percent to India's GDP over the long term. This requires work fulfilment platforms, enterprises, and gig partners to work in harmony.

Platforms can only operate at scale if they can offer compelling value propositions to both the demand and supply sides of the market. In this sense, it's vital to assure the availability of high-quality dependable gig partners as well as to understand the issues faced by gig partners, address them, and ease the pain points.

Sooner, rather than later, one can expect the gig economy to become as mainstream as conventional jobs, not only in terms of operations, but acceptance. In fact, I’d say we’re nearly 60 percent there already! And isn’t that great progress?

Edited by Teja Lele

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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