MENA region should empower gig economy talent
An exciting world of work is unfolding, one that harnesses global and diverse talents to deliver streams of productive projects. It is dubbed the “gig economy” and involves independent workers who can be capitalized on-demand.
In the coming years, the gig economy has the potential to improve employment levels, fuel economic growth and productivity, boost consumption for products and services, and nudge voluntarily unemployed segments to pursue attractive side hustles to improve their financial solvency. Critically, gig workers enjoy autonomy and flexible working arrangements that are not bound to specific hours, allowing them to pursue multiple jobs at the same time. Consequently, talents can gain unique experiences by working with a range of diverse employers in different sectors in order to advance their careers.
At the same time, employers can benefit from this agility and flexibility to enlist high-quality talents according to specific experiences, skill sets and technical qualifications. For instance, research institutes can call in a team of subject matter experts to deliver technical research projects. In another example, enterprises can hire temporary workforces on an ad hoc basis during high-demand seasons. This unique arrangement can lower the costs associated with recruitment, development and the delivery of select products and services.
To illustrate, innovations in recent years have reimagined digital marketplaces, empowering employers and consumers to commission a wide spectrum of services provided by gig workers. For instance, employers can hire short-term contractors to complete projects related to graphic design, writing, translation or coding via platforms such as Upwork or Guru.com. The e-commerce platform Etsy allows creatives to sell a range of original and unique handcrafted items, such as paintings, toys, games, clothes, bags, home accessories, and jewelry. Many other gig services have become ubiquitous in our lives, such as ride-sharing apps, food delivery apps and product delivery services.
As a consequence of the launch of these on-demand services, we are witnessing a greater demand for gig workers. A survey launched last year by McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey on independent work estimated that independent workers (freelance, fixed-contract, temporary or gig workers) make up about 36 percent of the total American labor market, an increase from 28 percent in a similar survey run in 2016. This type of work is considered a primary source of income for a whopping 70 percent of this segment, with the rest pursuing side projects to supplement their earnings.
A focus on designing policies that support gig workers could be a prudent pathway for improving employment levels
With the Middle East and North Africa region’s unemployment rate at 10.6 percent in 2021, according to the World Bank, a focus on designing policies that support gig workers could be a prudent pathway for improving employment levels. Already, the demand for freelancers in the region is flourishing.
Last year, Bayt.com conducted a survey on freelancing trends in the MENA region, with a sample of 1,764 respondents in various Arab countries. The resulting report found that about 70 percent of respondents planned on hiring more freelancers, highlighting a number of unique benefits of doing so, including improved delivery within tight deadlines, short-term hiring, supporting existing full-time teams, and finding it a cost-effective option. The fastest-growing sectors for freelancers were digital marketing, information technology, customer service, human resources, graphic design, and accounting, banking and finance.
In many instances, about 66 percent of employers offered full-time job opportunities to freelancers who were adept at accomplishing specific projects. Freelancers found this arrangement equally advantageous as they were able to earn extra income, explore new career opportunities, learn new skills and engage in work they enjoy. More than 69 percent of freelancers resorted to professional platforms to find such opportunities or job listings.
As more and more enterprises advance their digital transformation plans, the future will offer MENA’s creative classes a unique position within gig economy networks. Going forward, innovators should be encouraged to create MENA-focused digital marketplaces that can act as facilitators for bringing together local talents and employers in mutually beneficial projects. Platforms could cater to diverse communities of creative classes in areas including the arts, research, programming, administration, writing and translation, accounting and finance, legal work, and marketing.
Employers can leverage such platforms to hire external, specialized talents to work on specific project offerings, with details on deadlines, delivery expectations and payment posted. On the other hand, talents could post their resumes, highlighting their unique selling points, qualifications, skills and past projects. Employers could also vouch for these talents by posting reviews. Behind the scenes, platform administrators must ensure that robust systems are put in place to ensure timely payments and reviews.
Governments can support freelancers by setting minimum wage standards for various jobs to account for some unreimbursed costs associated with performing their jobs, such as transportation, tech equipment and office space. It is also important to put in place regulations to safeguard freelancers from any form of exploitation, such as late payments.
There is also room for improving other areas, such as allowing freelancers to subscribe to national pension systems and health insurance schemes, avail of maternity or paternity leaves, and request sick leaves. Furthermore, freelancers should be able to access lifelong learning platforms to continuously upskill and advance their careers. A blueprint would need to be envisaged that covers upskilling and reskilling programs for talents to pursue gig jobs across strategic sectors, highlighting the skill sets most demanded by employers.
Considering all these factors, which are shaping the gig economy worldwide, it is high time that policymakers in the region considered empowering local freelancers to capitalize on this golden opportunity.
- Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at www.amorelicious.com.