Defining the Gig Economy

As founder of the Professional Independent Consultants of America, I disagree with Peter Cappelli’s assertion that the gig economy is shrinking (“What Happened to That Gig Economy?” November 2018).

As with any statistics, it’s important to look closely at what’s behind the numbers. Who was surveyed? What was the sample size? Who’s publishing the data? And, most importantly, does it reflect the whole picture?

In this case, the 2017 Contingent Worker Survey on which Cappelli bases his view is only one piece of a much larger puzzle. It’s like looking through a 1-inch tube to assess the weather—you’re not seeing the whole horizon.

First, how does one define “gig economy”? Surely, it includes people driving part-time for Uber and Lyft, but does it also include full-time freelancers like writers and designers? And what about knowledge workers such as self-employed accountants, consultants and attorneys?

Second, most gig-economy workers (no matter how you define them) don’t consider themselves contingent workers. Indeed, most have never even heard the term. In the case of self-employed professionals like our members, they are “solopreneurs” and small businesses. This is a large segment of the workforce that is almost certainly not reflected in the Contingent Worker Survey.

To get a complete picture of what’s really going on with the American workforce, you need to also look at what’s going on with sole proprietorships, LLCs and S-corps. Are those numbers growing or shrinking? And do demographics also play a part, as baby boomers shun traditional retirement to work part-time on their own terms?

More importantly, from an HR perspective, does it really matter how you define the gig economy or whether or not it’s growing or shrinking? What matters is how to find and engage the best talent at the right time in a sensible way so a company can achieve its purpose.

Liz Steblay
Founder and Chief Advocate
Professional Independent Consultants of America
San Francisco

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