The gig economy is a new way of working and employing people that is very different from the traditional corporate, employee/employer relationship. The gig economy is made up of what are essentially freelancers on the supply-side, and companies that employ them on the buy-side.
Gig workers span every profession: engineers, drivers, copywriters, chefs, accountants, electricians, software designers, programmers, and hundreds of other categories of professional, skilled workers and laborers that are not employed by one single company. This environment is preferable for many workers because it allows geographic mobility, work/life balance, potentially premium wages and the intrinsic value of working across multiple industries for a wide variety of employers.
Companies take advantage of the gig economy because it reduces training expenses, benefit costs, office space and allows for just-in-time expertise that may be better rented than bought.
A recent Wall Street Journal article titled, “The End of Employees,” cited Google parent Alphabet (ranked a Fortune Best Place to Work for over seven years), as having roughly the same number of outsourced, gig workers as it does full-time employees. Outsourcing call centers to India and apparel jobs to China has been going on for years, but the gig economy is different. The shipping containers at Walmart are being unloaded not by Walmart employees but by gig contractors hired by trucking company Schneider National, Inc.
This new economy is accelerating and projected to result in 40% of American workers being gig workers by 2020. Forty percent! The digitization of everything, demographic shifts, globalization and the diminished social contract that once existed between employer and employee are all forces making that 40% seem possible.
Sure, the providers of services such as waitresses, delivery drivers and hair stylists could never be outsourced or become gig jobs, right? These are very human, high-touch jobs. But maybe not.
Restaurants now have iPads on the tables that allow you to order, pay and go without the need to talk to a server. Uber and Amazon drones will be delivering a lot more of our packages in five years. And stylists in the beauty industry are renting chairs in “salon malls” and working as independent gig-workers in increasing numbers.
So what does this mean for our nation’s trade associations and professional societies?
Will gig workers seek and pay for the advocacy that most trade associations provide today? Will they consider getting their education and training from a professional society? Will trade shows matter to them? Will they feel the bond of community currently enjoyed by the legacy members of many trade and professional organizations started in a twentieth-century, industrial and service economy?
I think the answer is, “It depends.” It depends on how fast and how agile the traditional trade and professional organizations build a more relevant, individual and modern value proposition that looks more like a blend of Amazon Prime, a Costco Membership and a retail loyalty program.
Gig workers want real-time solutions, professional development, career help, financial advice, health care and an entirely new array of benefits based on their “solo practitioner,” contractor status.
It’s becoming harder for many workers today to answer the question, “Who do you work for?” This fast-growing base of workers presents a great opportunity for the thousands of American trade and professional organizations if they can begin to embrace this new non-employee, gig, contractor shift.
So the question that association executives should be asking today is, “Who do you work for?” The answer isn’t as clear as it once was.