What does the gig economy mean for the IT industry?

The nature of the traditional workforce is changing. How will the gig economy allow IT professionals to approach a new way of working?



The IT industry has always been supported by a certain sense of freedom. From the early days of Silicon Valley where a number of influential individuals began experimenting with the limits of computer hardware, to the modern age of internet billionaires like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, there’s no shortage of opportunities to push the boundaries.

This sense of freedom and discovery underpins the many startup scenes that have sprung up across the globe. However, disruptive and evolving companies need a workforce that represents these demands. As these businesses are often at the forefront of innovation, they require employees that are just as flexible and agile as they are.

The demand for professionals of this nature has led to a shift in employment trends within the industry. Dubbed the gig economy, many IT workers are eschewing traditional roles and long-term commitments in favour of shorter contracts or freelance work.

What is the gig economy?

Broadly speaking, the gig economy refers to the large quantity of independent contractors active throughout a number of innovative startups that are disrupting many established businesses.

The trend reflects many of the developments currently affecting employees in long-term contracts, just on a much larger scale. Where traditional employees are gradually finding more opportunities for flexible working hours and locations, members of the gig economy often base their entire working lives around these qualities.

The gig economy is also often referred to as the on-demand economy, acknowledging the nature of this work and its flexible pay-as-you-go nature for both employers and employees. As it closely parallels freelance work, the gig economy gives candidates plenty of freedom as to who they work for, when they are active and where they set up.

Naturally, these roles are incredibly dependent on technology trends such as the mobile workforce, as IT professionals are now much less limited by their geographic location.

How is this workforce changing?

Software provider Intuit investigated how the gig economy is evolving in the US specifically, finding that the region is likely to see a notable growth in the number of people working these roles.

According to the firm, the number of US professional working the gig economy is expected to more than double by 2020. Currently, 3.2 million people are engaged in jobs that meet these criteria, a number that could reach as high as 7.6 million over the next five years if these predictions are correct.

Vice President of Intuit Alex Chriss explained that these trends will change what it means for people to be an entrepreneur in the IT industry.

“The rapid growth of on-demand marketplaces is reducing the traditional friction of finding customers, enabling a new class of entrepreneurs to find a hungry market for their products and services,” he said.

“The rise of the on-demand economy is also forcing policy makers, companies, and concerned citizens to ask important questions about the future of work and how best to create stability for this new breed of entrepreneur.”

How do these roles benefit IT professionals?

There are a number of benefits to this line of work, hence the reason for its rapid growth and newfound popularity. PR consulting firm Burson-Marsteller surveyed a number of professionals who are already involved in the gig economy and what drew them to a more flexible working relationship.

Respondents to the firm’s survey reflected a range of common benefits, with many highlighting the resulting independence freelance work offers as an important motivator. On top of this, almost one-third (32 per cent) cited the increased flexibility as a reason to maintain these types of roles.

However, these people also indicated that a role in the gig economy will not suit everyone, with many acknowledging the lack of security as an ongoing concern. For those that were drawn to the gig economy for the increased independence in the first place, these issues aren’t as influential.

Is it just for millennials?

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the gig economy is mostly associated with a younger generation of employees ready to embrace the flexibility of these options and potential financial benefits.

A recent Forbes article found these advantages aren’t exclusive to millennials. In fact, the nature of the gig economy could be the key to getting more mature workers in the workplace. Beyond this, the article also found that these roles are providing the means for people that have retired from traditional employment to have a bit of extra income on their own terms.

The piece focused on a 73-year-old Uber driver who used the role to finance trips to see her daughter and an annual holiday with friends, all while working hours that suited her schedule and allowed for social engagements as well.

As the IT industry continues to evolve and disrupt a range of traditional employment issues, employees will have a number of different opportunities to engage with the industry as they see fit.