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Universities have often offered courses teaching students how to navigate the workplace and manage their careers. Now, we’re starting to see some of these courses focus on teaching students how to best participate in the gig economy.

As the gig economy surges, on-demand workers are popping up in wider variety of industries. Trends indicate that the proportion of the U.S. workforce engaging in some form of gig arrangement will continue to increase, rising from the over one-third who are already participating. It is therefore no wonder that one of the largest slices of the nation’s economy – healthcare – is attracting more gig workers. In fact, this concept is not entirely new. Many healthcare employers have historically offered gig-like classifications and systems to help them retain a cadre of employed nurses and other professionals. Questions remain about the extent to which actual gig relationships can be effective in this vast industry. 

While U.S. lawmakers grapple with the dynamics of the gig economy, our neighbor to the north is witnessing a dramatic increase in the number of gig workers. A recent article in the Toronto Star discussed a new study from Statistics Canada which “found a dramatic increase in gig workers.” Specifically, the study found that the number of gig workers in Canada “jumped by 70% between 2005 and 2016, from 1 million to 1.7 million — an increase from 5.5% of all workers aged 15 and older to 8.2%.” In Toronto, one in 10 workers obtained some of their income from the gig economy in 2016 according to the study. 

The burgeoning gig economy helps companies attract talent and gain new levels of nimbleness in support of efforts to satisfy customers and gain an edge on the competition. The gig relationship is obviously attractive to many. It gives workers greater flexibility, with meaningful opportunities for those who are entrepreneurially inclined. 

We reported last year about the importance of a new retirement system for the gig economy. Typical gig workers are currently not entitled to enjoy a traditional employer-based retirement plan because the law only permits such plans to cover employees and not independent contractors. But the need for gig workers to have opportunities to save for retirement has done nothing but increase in recent years. Research shows that there are 56.7 million freelancers in the United States and Congress has yet to pass legislation creating a retirement system for them.

Gig workers in New York City recently gained a suite of workplace protections normally reserved for employees. The City Council amended its antidiscrimination laws in September to cover independent contractors, meaning that gig workers will soon have the right to pursue legal remedies against hiring entities that typically don’t have to be concerned about claims from this segment of their workforce.

Seattle attorney, Scott Prange recently wrote the feature story in the November 2019 edition of the Hawaii Bar Journal entitled, “The Gig Economy and Occupational Safety and Health.”

Women often face a very different path than men when it comes to today’s workplaces. Often in our society, the working life of women changes dramatically after significant life events such as the birth of a child, a family member becoming ill, or the death of a parent. Fortunately, the gig economy has created a new world of opportunity for women due to several factors.

As the evolution of the gig economy continues, highly skilled workers who operate on a project-by-project basis are leveraging the gig economy to find new clients and to align their workload according to their personal preferences. Likewise, companies are increasingly able to work with highly skilled freelancers to scale up their workforce in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Companies are also able to manage fluctuations of the demand for their services by hiring skilled freelancers on a project basis.

While the gig economy often gets derided by worker advocates for being unfair to its workers, one aspect of the nature of gig work is often overlooked: it helps boost diversity to an almost unparalleled degree. The nature of the gig business is somewhat ruthless in that it cuts through a lot of bureaucratic red tape and aims directly and specifically to ensure that consumers get exactly what they are looking for: a specific skill to get the job done. Which means that, according to an op-ed in the Stamford Advocate, it creates a “truly level playing field irrespective of location, gender, age, or background.”

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