Why more older workers are in the gig economy

older workers
Amanda Woodard


written on October 11, 2017

We tend to associate young people with the gig economy, but new research shows that older, more skilled workers are increasingly making the move.

The gig economy has been enthusiastically embraced by millennials who favour the flexibility it offers. But it appears that it is older workers who might be benefiting the most. Research from the US shows that there’s a growing demand among businesses for gig workers, and that mature, experienced white-collar workers — not millennials — are driving the change.

By 2021, nearly 10 million Americans will be part of the gig economy, up from 3.8 million in 2016, according to new research from Intuit and Emergent Research. And there are currently more gig workers employed in the States than there are people employed in the entire information sector and IT services, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But these contingent workers tend to be people with more skills and work experience than rather millennials, who are choosing to work flexibly for the benefits it provides rather than as a forced way of earning an income.

The findings from software company Mavenlink, shows there is a big appetite among firms for hiring contingency workers. Nearly 80 per cent said they thought it would give them the agility they are seeking to adjust their staffing levels at short notice in response to demand, as well as accessing a wider talent pool.

Interestingly, businesses are focussing particularly on the upper echelons of the job market. The study show that 94 per cent of executives plan to expand their use of skilled contractors for specialised roles and nearly half of business leaders said they want to hire contractors for management, senior executive and C-suite roles – all of which favour older workers.

Rethinking retention

Unemployment in the the US is currently negligible. During the election campaign Trump spoke a lot about creating jobs, but the fact is that companies are short of skilled labour. To address the problem, commentators in the US have suggested that employers will have to truly consider holding on to employees who have often been ‘let go’ in the past, such as disabled employees, older workers and those from minority backgrounds.

In the US, the responsibility for hiring contract or contingency workers isn’t generally given to HR, but that may have to change as the gig economy becomes more mainstream and regulations around contract workers change to reflect that.

(For some Australian research into how many of us are moving towards freelancing, read our article.)

For example, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing in early September on the federal government’s role in the gig economy. While lawmakers are drafting proposals on portable benefits, including retirement savings, in an attempt to create better protections for contract workers.

What’s clear both in the US and globally is that most organisations are playing catch-up in figuring out how to engage with the new world of work. The Mavenlink study shows that although executives want to hire more gig workers, most organisations (69 per cent) don’t have the support structures and policies in place to manage them, and 77 per cent said they don’t comprehend the changes required to manage those workers.

Discover how you can change mindsets and organisational culture at AHRI’s Inclusion and Diversity Conferences in Canberra on 26 October and Melbourne on 2 November. Registration closes 19 October (Canberra) and 26 October (Melbourne).

Photo credit: Tankesmedjan Futurion via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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