Is the ‘Gig Economy’ Good for Tech Pros?

shutterstock_223685986

If you want a sign of the gig economy’s increasing importance, look no further than the 2016 presidential race. Two front-runners, Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, recently positioned themselves on either side of the debate—Bush, by suggesting that technological disruption improves customer service and competition; Clinton, by wondering publicly whether this new take on contracting will hurt workers’ rights.

Election aside, if national trends continue, a greater portion of Americans—and, by extension, tech pros—could find themselves juggling multiple employers, and earning money by signing up for micro-gigs via apps. In addition to Uber and other major players, a growing number of startups have set their sights on “micro-contracting” assorted industries. At Fivrr, for example, services such as Web design and SEO optimization start at $5; and while you’re not likely to pay $5 for a WordPress site, you could get a reasonable one for $50.

As with Uber, a typical Fivrr customer provides a rating for the work and professionalism of the contractor. Too many poor performances and the contractor will end up ranked at the bottom, essentially kicked off the platform.

The tech sector seems an especially ripe target for an Uber-style business model. With 7,000 independent contractors, Geekatoo is one such company adopting that strategy, by connecting tech professionals with people in need of tech support. Though it services businesses, the majority of the contracting jobs come from consumers who might need something as simple as installing a printer.

Geekatoo’s basic model looks similar to Geek Squad, the market leader, but that’s where the comparison ends. Geek Squad employs more than 20,000 people. Though they are not all techs, the majority are employees eligible for benefits such as sick time and store discounts.

That isn’t true at Geekatoo, but the company’s co-founder and CEO, Kevin Davis, insists that he’s offering something more for employees. “People want the freedom to work when they want and I think it’s a very attractive proposition for people who want to work between different jobs,” he said.

But can a tech pro make a living off Geekatoo gigs? Davis wouldn’t offer how much an average contractor worked on a weekly basis. In theory, such gigs aren’t meant to be full-time; someone may drive for Uber one day, repair a PC for Geekatoo the next, and fill out the rest of the week with another tech-contractor gig at Eden or something similar.

Human-resources consultant Rebecca Mazin sees firsthand that the gig economy is already here: “I do some work as a job search coach through a local library, and I see many twentysomethings putting together a career with a variety of freelance assignments or gigs. I also see this among people in the 50-plus age range.”

Employee or Contractor?

In becoming the flagship of the gig economy, Uber has attracted its share of controversies, most notably over whether its contractors are exploited. This summer, the California Labor Commission ruled that drivers were employees, not contractors; it remains to be seen whether the ruling stands, or even goes national via legal action in other states.

Other stalwarts of the gig economy have attracted similar legal heat. Handy, which you could describe as “Uber for house cleaning,” ended up the target of a lawsuit over contractor benefits. Homejoy, which offered a similar service, recently shut its doors due to a lawsuit over worker misclassification.

Micro-gigs might offer workers a lot of flexibility, but people like benefits, too. And therein lies the central tension of the gig economy: When is a contractor really an employee? Can this new breed of employers survive if they need to start shelling out benefits?

“I think it is naive to think that the long term career with one employer will return as a norm,” Mazin said. “There are too many employers hiring people for gigs, or simply starting any staff member part time.”

According to freelanceunion.org, 34 percent of workers in the United States already do some level of freelancing. The gig economy is here to stay, in tech and otherwise; but how prevalent will it actually become?

Image Credit: LDprod/Shutterstock.com

Comments

6 Responses to “Is the ‘Gig Economy’ Good for Tech Pros?”

August 08, 2015 at 10:01 pm, G. R. Potok said:

“Far from turning into a nation of gig workers, Americans are becoming slightly less likely to be self-employed, and less prone to hold multiple jobs. Official government data shows around 95% of those who report having jobs are accounted for on the formal payroll of U.S. employers, little changed from a decade ago.”

Reply

August 10, 2015 at 5:15 am, John Moore said:

It is HORRIBLE. A very bad trend. It would be a good trend, but firms are lowballing contractors at this point. They want short-term at a low hourly rate. Especially in the instructional design and development areas. You are starting to see this trend in all of IT/web/mobile development. You also see firms not really knowing what they want in terms of the deliverables, they just drop the assignment in your lap without enough direction. That works for Uber (“contractors” driving a car, reading a map, etc), but for IT work, the contractor has to have some sense of what the client wants. Overall, it just not a good way to treat or develop talent. No one wants to be a migrant worker. That is what this whole “gig” economy “thing” has turned into. This is a very bad trend.

Reply

August 13, 2015 at 7:09 am, steve portock said:

Get used to it, it was inevitable that it would turn this way. Companies can’t and should not have made life time promises they can’t guarantee. It would be better in the long run for all of us to operate a individual businesses, you prettty much do now. Will the govt like it? Of course not, not so easy to steal “tax” money then. In the long run the tough, smart, creative people will eat, the loafers will starve, as it should be. You either contribute, or get what scraps get thrown to you if any.

Reply

August 13, 2015 at 1:04 pm, Fred Astaire said:

This whole issue of “employee” versus “contractor” is simple tax law goofiness created by the IRS. Who pays the payroll tax should be irrelevant as long as it gets paid. And benefits are a red-herring – it has nothing to do with the “contractor versus employee” discussion.

What really is clear is that our labor management and tax collection systems need to move forward.

Reply

August 13, 2015 at 7:31 pm, Vern said:

Is it a good thing? When you need a large number of people, all of whom need to invest heavily in developing their skills to be qualified, it’s hard to imagine anything that reduces the stability of the profession is a good thing.

Ever try to put together a team of cat herders? It’s a hard job and it doesn’t pay well. Thus, good cat herders are hard to find.

Reply

September 01, 2015 at 4:26 am, Antonia Etheredge said:

It s essential that we talk about how to do that right. Later in the speech, Clinton asked questions that relate to this changed context without decrying it. How do we respond to technological change in a way that creates more good jobs than it displaces or destroys?

Reply

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published.