Gig economy promises new jobs. Technological evolution will also throw up surprises
A new report forecasting that India can create millions more jobs over the coming years in the gig economy underscores a fundamental shift in the nature of work. While automation swept through factory floors and BPOs reduced manpower requirements, e-commerce, ride hailing and food delivery apps, streaming media and fintech have created lakhs of temporary jobs in the services sector. Although the jury is still out on the quality of life accorded by such gigs and the social security benefits they accord, recall that informalization of jobs started much earlier.
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The report by Boston Consulting Group and Michael & Susan Dell Foundation predicts 90 million flexi and gig jobs in a decade from 8 million now, contributing transactions valued at more than $250 billion and an additional 1.25% to India’s GDP. Obviously, technological evolutions are hard to predict. A decade ago, few, if any, had divined these new jobs. Accepting change as the sole constant, it is equally critical to create the socio-economic framework that can support such jobs.
Expecting startups fueled by venture capital and presently unprofitable to treat gig workers as regular employees isn’t practical. Such moves could impede innovation and investment. But if central and state governments could deliver in areas like public health, education, insurance and food security, anxieties generated by unsteady, irregular unemployment can be managed better. Last year’s nationwide lockdown when the suddenly unemployed migrant workers panicked and bolted, untrusting the promises of governments to care for them, served out this lesson in poignant detail. The gig economy does promise flexibility and improved choices for many women and part time workers. Every technological revolution till date has effaced some jobs and created plentiful others. There is room for optimism in the rapidly emerging tech-mediated world, but only upon strengthening the support of educational and health infrastructure.