The gig economy has grown significantly in recent years. In fact, one study found that 94 percent of the net job growth between 2005 and 2015 occurred in the realm of “alternative work,” which includes the gig economy. This growth has given many people the opportunity to let their hair down, so to speak, and earn income without the stress of a traditional 9-5 job.
Workers used to see full-time jobs with large companies and regular paychecks as secure, but this vision has lost some of its appeal, especially for millennials. A recent Pew Research Center study found that 63 percent of Americans believe jobs are less secure now than they were 20-30 years ago and that 51 percent of Americans believe jobs will become even less secure in the future.
As traditional work loses its luster, the gig economy is extending into almost every industry, with transportation being one of the most prominent. One rideshare driver I spoke to in Chicago said an independent transportation company was an inspiration to change her life.
This driver formerly worked 23 years for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and had to quickly consider her options when the transit hub offered her a new employment package. Accepting the package would have meant being bound by another ten-year contract, so this driver decided to take an early retirement. She left the CTA, laughing all the way to the bank.
Ridesharing allows this driver to drive her own car on her own schedule. This freedom gave her, at the age of 42, the opportunity to leave a steady job she had held since she was 19 and find an alternative role that gave her the flexibility she needed to focus on herself and her family.
The Gig Economy: The New Normal
Many millennials are turning to gig economy platforms for the same reasons as the driver did. They want good work/life balances while earning decent incomes, and they’re not interested in keeping the same roles for 30 years.
Like the baby boomers preceding them, millennials also seek steady, well-paying employment, but where they find that employment differs significantly from where previous generations found it. By allowing millennials to become contract workers rather than employees, the gig economy has given them the chance to be more entrepreneurial in their careers.
“The gig economy is a hot trend, the new normal among business models,” says Jesse Silkoff, CEO and founder of FitnessTrainer, a gig work platform for personal trainers.
Silkoff is very optimistic about the continued growth of the gig economy, and he has reason to be. Over the last two decades, the number of gig workers grow by 27 percent more than the number of payroll employees did, according to CNBC.
According to Gallup, millennials have higher rates of unemployment and underemployment than other generations. Despite this dismal report, the gig economy seems to be turning out favorably for millennials, giving them the chance to work flexibly across a range of roles and industries and allowing them to utilize a fuller range of their skills and experiences at work.
The Gig Economy Brings Benefits to Companies
Gig work goes far beyond driving a car, renting a room in a home, and offering personal training services, and corporations are beginning to see the advantages of leveraging gig workers. Nowadays, gig jobs range from marketing, design, and creative positions all the way up to temporary C-level roles.
Increasingly, companies are turning to gig workers for projects that might be too specialized or too time-consuming for in-house staff members. Employers also see that gig workers tend to be very efficient because they are aware that efficiency often translates to higher earnings during their short-term stints.
The downside, unfortunately, is that gig workers must keep up to date with training and new industry developments on their own time and dime, as few companies are willing to invest in training for gig workers. Employers just want results from this workforce.
Ultimately, despite how popular the gig economy is right now, we actually know very little about it. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has only just begun its foray into tracking this sector of the economy.
As Mark Muro, senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program, told CNBC, “There’s not been that much information about it, because there are no government statistics about it.”
At this stage, all we can really say is more and more gig economy workers are bringing home the bacon – and it looks like this segment of the workforce will only grow bigger in the future.
Cynthia Lunn-Romer is a freelance writer from Illinois.