uber eats worker

Gig Economy — The Future of Work

Whilst still a relatively new phenomenon, the latest economic data is starting to shed a light on how the gig economy is manifesting itself within Liverpool.

Uber eats worker

The world of work is changing

Technological developments over the last decade have revolutionised how we all live, work and spend money. With nearly 80% of the population now owning a smartphone, how we procure services and goods has fundamentally changed, who hasn’t used their phone to order goods, request a ride or book a hotel room?

The explosion in the application of this smart technology and digital platforms are not only reshaping how we access goods and services but also the future of work. This has been coined the gig economy, in reflection of the individual nature of work, which is characterised by the rising prevalence of temporary, short-term and un-secured employment.

This type of work has become synonymous with technology companies such as Uber, EBay, Deliveroo and Airbnb but is by no means confined to them, it is reflective of a wider change in employment patterns. Although those people employed within the gig economy are currently the most affected, increasing automation will disrupt all industries and suggests this emerging trend is likely to become the economic reality for many of us.

Liverpool’s Gig economy

Whilst still a relatively new phenomenon, the latest economic data is starting to shed a light on how the gig economy is manifesting itself within Liverpool. Liverpool is broadly a service-based economy and while there has been employment and business growth, this has been concentrated within those sectors at the forefront of the emerging gig economy.

Growth in part-time employment has outstripped full time employment but where this growth has taken place is the clearest indication of the rise of the gig economy. Hotels and accommodation has experienced a 540% increase in part-time employment and taxi operation has witnessed a 220% increase.

However, the gig economy isn’t restricted to how companies employ their workforce, a substantial element of the gig economy is facilitated by workers who are self-employed, independent contractors. Liverpool’s business growth has been underpinned exceptional growth in micro-businesses (businesses with 0–4 employees), increasing by 53.2%, compared to the national average of 28.7% since 2010.

Taken in isolation these trends aren’t conclusive evidence of the gig economy — however, the devil is in the detail! Further analyses reveals that this growth is highly sector specific and closely aligned to those sectors where disruptive technology companies are operating, once again the likes of Uber, EBay, Deliveroo, Amazon and Airbnb.

It is hard to deny the presence of Liverpool’s gig economy when the city has experienced a 2,350% increase in the number of businesses within the internet and mail order sector. That’s over 15% of all business growth in Liverpool is largely accounted for by what we can safely assume are EBay sellers. This turns our traditional understanding and how we measure economic activity on its head.

The future of work

This poses an important question for statisticians, how do we develop robust economic metrics that accurately portray the economic realities of our local communities? This will be a key area of work over the next year within the Intelligence and Analytics Team but you may well wonder, how does this affect me?

As more and more services become available at your fingertips, the reality of un-secured, non-permanent employment is likely to affect an ever growing number of us. Reporting around the gig economy has largely been negative but for some this flexible employment will be advantageous, allowing work to be responsive to personal circumstances.

However, for many it will be at the detriment to permanent employment, requiring multiple non-permanent jobs with no guaranteed income or security. In the future, work may well not be an automatic route out of poverty. Ensuring all residents are adequately equipped to navigate this new landscape and access good work with fair pay, is not a challenge for the future but a current imperative.

This work cannot take place in isolation, it will require collaboration across public and private sector partners. As the rapid pace of technological change continues unabated, we can’t rest on our laurels, the time for change is now.

Naomi Walsh is the Research and Intelligence Manager for the economy within the council’s Corporate Intelligence and Analytics Team. She describes herself as a “self-confessed data nerd” but her role is to actually interpret economic and business statistics to identify emerging trends and report on Liverpool’s economy. With the tendency for economic statistics to be rather technical, a large proportion of Naomi’s role is to humanise the data into digestible reports that help to ensure services are responsive to the economic climate.

Liverpool Waterfront