Gig work & India’s Gen-Z

Srinath Sridharan/Srinivasan.R Iyengar | Updated on November 15, 2020

Challenge: Melding this subset of millennials to the workforce

In the past few decades, India has been more a labour-cost-arbitrage economy rather than a value-add-one. Much of our workforce has outdated and or irrelevant skills; be it in blue-collared job or white-collared job or the informal labour market.

The government has been vocal and active about the ‘Skilling India’ programme and has been working overtime to develop a skills-ecosystem to empower 40 crore youth by 2022. With the Covid impact on the global economies and consequently jobs, the need for skilling and reskilling would hasten, as we start seeing increased unemployment and also return of NRIs, as many nations might be forced to reduce immigrant workforce.

Technological revolution focussed on information and communication technologies has reshaped the fundamental concept of employment. Alternative work arrangements, such as flexible scheduling, working from anywhere, and part-time work are seeing traction.

Impermanent employment

A gig economy is a free-market idea, in which temporary roles are the norm and makes for hiring people for short-term assignments. The word “gig”, a slang word popularised by the music industry, depicts for a job that lasts a specified period of time. The gig economy represents impermanent employment, and vastly assisted by digitally enabled mediums. The culture and personality of the work organisations are fast changing and have to adapt to the new-normal of the gig economy.

In a gig economy, businesses potentially reduce resources-utilisation in terms of HR benefits, office space and training needs. It also reduces their need to hire full-time experts who otherwise are needed only for a specific time. For freelancer-participants, a gig economy can potentially improve the quality of living and work-life balance. The global digital-gig-economy generated a gross value of over $200 billion last year. The size of the gig economy is projected to grow by a 17 per cent CAGR and cross $450 billion by 2023. India has emerged as the 5th largest country for flexi-staffing after US, China, Brazil and Japan.

However, in the mainstream Indian economy, gig workers have no form of social security, and the terms of their engagement with the gig-platform are far from transparent. The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 regulates engagement of contract labour in India, including work done through third-party contractors. There is opportunity to treat gig workers as “contractors” under this law.

This would impose obligations on platforms (employers) to comply with the requirements under this law, including welfare and health obligations to be provided to employees. Hopefully, the adequate and clear safeguards for the gig-workers would be brought in quickly by the government and the judiciary.

Gen Z — the catalysts

With millennials moving into mid to senior management roles, and the Gen-Z (individuals born between 1997 and 2012) gradually becoming a part of the workforce, we are seeing a new dimension being added to what constitutes as “employment.” They do not relate to life-long work in the same organisation!

In today’s hyper-personalised and connected world, an individual’s aspirations and belief-in-self are what drives them to choose a particular organisation or field of work. As a result, global economies are undergoing a shift from traditional work structures towards part-time or gig culture. With passion being a huge selection-driver for gig-workers, it nudges individuals to do what they like to do, when they like to do, and at a pace that rhymes with them.

In order to tap into the millennial workforce, organisations would need to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace. Future businesses would attract people from different generations, backgrounds, cultures, and styles working alongside each other. Gig workers would be expected to be constantly learning and keeping up with industry trends to maintain a competitive edge. In a gig economy, the participant needs to constantly market oneself by building relationships, and working to create a steady flow of opportunities. The constantly widening gap between the aspirations of India’s vast millennial generation as well as the critical mass of the subset within it — the Gen Z, and the employment and entrepreneurship opportunities available currently, is rightfully a cause of sleepless nights to our polity, policy and industry leaders.

Sridharan is an Independent markets commentator and Iyengar is a faculty member with JBIMS, Mumbai. Views expressed in this article are personal

Published on November 15, 2020

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