Here is your September guide to the latest trends impacting the world of work. Every month, we provide perspective on the biggest news affecting the industry and explain what to expect as new trends continue to emerge.
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Gig Work Get Its Due
A new report from the World Bank estimates the number of people employed globally in the online gig economy to be as many as 435 million people, accounting for up to 12.5% of the global labor force.
Gig work is defined as a job in which a worker is paid for a particular task or for a defined period (think Uber drivers). Whilst the gig economy has been growing for years, participation has been challenging to measure, and even countries with robust labor force statistics do not have an accurate way of measuring who is participating in gig work. This is because gig work is mediated through digital platforms. Gig workers are not employees of companies like Uber or TaskRabbit. Rather, they complete tasks, like driving or food delivery, for customers of the app or website. Some gig work is location based, like the examples cited above. Other gig work can be purely online, such as data entry, image tagging, proofreading, website design, content writing and many more tasks.
This report focuses mainly on online gig work and has attempted to quantify participants globally. Here are some key findings:
- Online gig work now constitutes a growing and non-negligible part of the labor market, accounting for 4.4 to 12.5 percent of the global labor force. The authors of the study estimate that the number of online gig workers ranges from 154 million to 435 million globally and that there has been rapid growth triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Online gig work is not just a developed-country phenomenon. It’s increasingly becoming a popular source of employment in developing nations. Developed nations still dominate the demand for online labor, but developing countries are rapidly catching up. An estimated 40% of traffic to gig platforms is driven by low- and middle-income countries.
- Online gig work can provide opportunities for young people, women, low-skilled workers or people in areas with few job opportunities. Most gig workers tend to be under the age of 30 and seek to earn income, learn new skills or have the flexibility to combine gig work with school or another job. Women in most regions are participating in the online gig economy to a greater extent than in the general labor market, though a wage gap still exists between men and women.
- Gig work is a newer form of work thanks to the role technology plays in it. However, gig work also resembles other types of informal work arrangements that have existed for many years. Gig work, particularly in developing nations, often exists outside the purview of labor regulations. Gig workers may lack access to benefits like pensions, retirement benefits or other social insurance that exist within more formal work arrangements.
There are a number of positives that come with the expansion of gig work. The authors of the study cite the opportunity to build up digital skills among a country’s workforce as well as bring more people into the labor market who may not have the ability to participate in the traditional labor force, for example young people in areas that lack ‘traditional’ job opportunities.
However, there are challenges with this kind of work too. Inequalities exist: there is a documented pay gap between men and women, and people without access to the internet or digital devices are essentially shut out. Gig jobs can also be sporadic, lack clear (or any) career progression and often do not have social insurance, like retirement benefits.
It’s undeniable, though, that gig work is here to stay. As gig workers proliferate and the industry matures, we are likely to see pushes for regulation and attempts at collective bargaining by gig workers. Recent developments in artificial intelligence may also impact the kinds of tasks that are available to gig workers.
What we can say for sure is that it’s vital that labor force surveys find ways to measure these new forms of work, so that governments and businesses can better understand who is participating in this newer frontier of work.
Navigating Advancements in Generative AI
Struggling to keep pace with all the advancements in Generative AI? You’re not alone. McKinsey recently compiled their top articles on the subject in one easy-to-skim explainer. Here are the most interesting takeaways from a recruitment perspective:
- The automation of knowledge work is now in sight. There’s been an understanding for some time that many jobs were already on their way to being automated — office support, food services and production work, for example. However, rapid advancements in automation technology mean that professionals in education, law, technology and the arts are likely to see some parts of their jobs automated sooner than expected.
- GAI is already being deployed for specific use cases. Tools have already been developed and adopted for tasks like transcription, developing concept art, audio editing, photo editing, code generation and more.
- High-tech industries and banking are likely to see the most significant gains from GAI. The banking sector will likely build on previous efficiencies earned through AI, such as taking on required reporting, data collection and monitoring regulatory developments. High-tech industries, such as pharmaceuticals and medical products, could use GAI to speed up R&D.
- Despite the promise of GAI, most organizations aren’t using it yet. When McKinsey surveyed marketing and sales leaders on how much their organizations use Generative AI, 69% reported that their organizations rarely or never used it.
- The newness of the technology means it’s smart that organizations are proceeding with caution. Large language models are known to “hallucinate,” that is, produce content that is biased or flat-out incorrect. Questions still exist around the potential for IP infringement and cybersecurity risks. For now, it’s wise to keep a human in the loop when working with AI-produced content.
Are Workers Using Generative AI?
In the survey cited above, sales and marketing leaders say they’re not using Generative AI tools. However, other surveys indicate that workers are, in fact, trying them out. Why the disconnect? It’s unclear if use is informal, ad hoc or if workers are being discreet. Nevertheless, 22% of people said that they regularly use some kind of GAI tool in their work; a third of respondents said that their organizations are already widely adopting AI in at least one function. Another survey from the Pew Research Center showed that 24% of adults who have heard of ChatGPT have used it.
As these tools become even more advanced and organizations learn how best to use them, one would think that upskilling workers will be the next step. Surprisingly, however, a recent report from IBM showed that business leaders viewed soft skills, not hard skills, as among the most critical for their workforces. The ability to effectively communicate, collaborate and manage time far outranked things like proficiency in STEM and software skills. Why? As technology becomes more user-friendly, advanced technical skills become less of a need.
For the 22% of U.S. workers who worry that technology will make their jobs obsolete, perhaps there’s some comfort to be had in knowing that there are some things only people can do…for now.
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