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8/24/2016 8:23:15 AM

The 'Gig Economy' - the future of work in the UK?

The ever-increasing availability of high-speed internet connections, mobile computing devices and even smartphones more powerful than desktop computers have all contributed to more flexible working conditions in the 21st century.

But far from just enabling more people to enjoy a greater work-life balance within their existing office job, this trend has led to an increase in the number of people creating their own fully flexible career as a 'freelancer'.

While some traditional disciplines don't translate well into a flexible freelancer model, many digital and creative roles are ideal for this kind of approach - and online jobs boards and freelancer bidding platforms have sprung up to support the so-called Gig Economy, where individuals work often at very short notice on one order at a time, before moving on to the next project.

For those who hire freelancers in this way, it's a very flexible way to gain access to specific skills over the short term, either to fill a temporary need - for example, hiring a graphic designer to refresh your marketing materials - or to work alongside your own employees during a growth period or a time of peak demand.

But for the freelancers, it can be a little precarious, moving from one order to the next without sick pay or annual leave, and with no real safety net in the event of a lull in business or a long-term injury or illness.

The Recruitment & Employment Confederation has called for greater protection to be given to freelancers working in this way, including greater recourse in instances of bad practice, guidelines for fair pay levels, legal protections for gig workers as self-employed individuals and recruitment industry rules applied to online gig platforms.

Kevin Green, chief executive of the REC, said: "The gig economy is predicted to add £45 billion to the UK economy and create work for 766,000 people. Gig working is heading for the mainstream.

"This is good news for employers who will welcome tools which help them access the global talent market. The UK is close to full employment and businesses across the economy need to react to skills shortages."

He added that emerging technologies offer one way to react to problems within the existing labour market, but that policymakers must also react quickly to introduce the necessary protections for contractors, freelancers and interims who work via the Gig Economy.

With nearly a third of all UK businesses expected to hire via online freelancer marketplaces by 2021, the REC is keen to see fair practices introduced for employers and freelancers alike.

In the meantime, and particularly in a period of ongoing economic and political turbulence both within the UK and in its relations with its nearest neighbours, the Gig Economy is a valuable resource for employers to gain access to the skills they need, and for digital professionals to carve a career niche of their own without being tied down to a single employer.

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