The Gig Economy Is Nothing New But It's Growing Rapidly

What a gig economy is and how you can thrive in it


By Nomali Cele

The gig economy has been on the rise for decades but the conditions for workers to take charge of it and thrive have never been better. The gig economy prioritises freelance, short-term and contract work where demand is what drives the employment force. If you have other priorities and your job isn’t your primary source of income, this way of work is easier to take.

The gig economy is being touted as the next frontier of work. Along with working remotely, more and more people are turning freelance because, when it works, it works. Freelancers with steady gigs get to have the best of both worlds: Making a living while having control of their working hours. They get to do more than one job or focus on their passions after they’ve finished whatever task is at hand.

Some industries lend themselves easily to a gig economy than others: Media, creative industries and the arts are the go-to gig economy fillers – you can write or pain from anywhere! However, it’s harder when the space gets saturated.

For Kagiso Mnisi, who’s worked in the freelance creative industry for about 10 years, the gig economy isn’t just a way to be creatively fulfilled. “It’s creatively satisfying but also brings spiritual and philosophical contentment,” he said in an email.

Corporations have spent this decade, and a couple more before, looking at automated labour and how that can be used to cut costs while maximising profits. The gig economy will, in a few years, grow as a direct result of automation.

READ: Where to work if you are a freelancer

According to Mnisi, the gig economy is great because, “Unlike the humdrum of a 9 to 5, which fixates on exposing the working force to politics of organisational hierarchies and bureaucracy, freelancing lets one own their time.”

Not only that, Mnisi worries about the implications of being locked in a routine as a creative producer. He said,  “A 9 to 5er runs the risk of experiencing cabin fever solely based on the fact that they are chained to a desk/cubicle, this is where the death of ideas results.”

But what does this mean for us  as a country when we are already burdened with high unemployment numbers? Is the gig economy an opportunity that needs to be explored more?

Doubtful about the gig economy locally? It has been taking off in South Africa in a big way in the past five years. Uber and Taxify are part of the gig economy, with on-demand taxi services being on the rise. According to a 2017 report, there were over 10 thousand Uber cars in South Africa and demand for the service has been on a steady incline.

gig economy, millennial work, millennial freelancers, the future of work

Reasons people would be part of the gig economy

People join the gig economy for numerous reasons, from wanting to raise a family to wanting to travel the world; others want to write books but need to earn a living in the meantime.

The most common work that attracts most people to the gig economy is work that can be done elsewhere and not within the confines of an office or other workplace. Wanderlusters want to knock out a long project and deadline and go diving with turtles immediately after.

What makes the gig economy hard

For one thing, this method of work is highly dependent on demand. Nine-to-five work gets a bad reputation but it’s a guaranteed income. It makes financial planning risky and can stunt your financial growth if you are the only earner. There isn’t much job security unless your industry is highly specialised and you are at expert level.

Mnisi, who works with various clients creating written and multimedia work, says it’s definitely not all self-employment bliss. “Some clients don’t pay on time, or don’t pay at all.” He added, “Freelancers often take on too much, which itself deals a knock to the brain and body.”

With people flocking to the freelance life, how do freelancers like Mnisi differentiate themselves in the marketplace? How has he created a sustainable career within the gig economy?

 “Self-investment is everything. One has to strategically assess their professional trajectory and in turn brush shoulders with people who possess a variety of expertise to learn from. Online resources are a go to as well,” he said.

For more on the gig economy, listen to Thuli Magubane in conversation with Career Coach Vumile Msweli on the subject.

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