The aged 15 and above, in the UK

The ‘Gig
Economy’, dominated by freelancers and individuals seeking out short-term work,
is an employment market that has recently emerged. Additionally, described as
the ‘Sharing Economy’ or the ‘On-Demand Economy’, it’s a new business model (Heller,
2017) that benefits from the current upsurge of crowdsourcing and outsourcing,
making the ‘Gig Economy’ a phenomenon that would be persistent as well as predominant
in the near future. Rather than complying to the accustomed recruitment process
of set working hours, standardized wages and sick pays offered by a hiring
business, the workers are categorized as independent contractors, getting paid
for each ‘gig’ they accept. The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts,
Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), in 2017, conducted a survey of adults, aged 15
and above, in the UK and found out that there are currently 1.1 million Gig
workers. Around 3 per cent of the adults have tried gig work in some form,
which equates to as many as 1.6 million adults in the UK.

While this rising sector of the economy has been lauded by the
progressives, who celebrate its values and additional opportunity created. Some
claim gigs represent a rebellion against corporate structures and norms, a
specific type of exploitation (Inman, 2017). Regardless of perspective, gigs
have changed the relationship between worker and employer and have disrupted
the longstanding industries

To begin with, gig workers benefit by gaining more flexibility over
their schedule and the type of work they create. The independence is refreshing
to most of the millennial workforce, as they choose what gig to work, how,
where and when they want. This also allows them to maintain a good work-life
balance, ideal for when one needs to work around personal commitments or other
jobs. Alongside this, they also get to pursue their passion, as a gig would
most likely be available for that. This creates an opportunity for gig workers
to hone their skills in their spare time, while finding out if there is a
market for their skills, without risking too much. Usually
these freelancers are hired through online platforms, and rely on a network of
those very freelancers, who set their own schedules; for example, sites like
Odesk, Fiverr and 99Designs. “While these online platforms for sourcing gigs have
existed for more than a decade now, the trend has accelerated in the UK since
2012” (Balaram et all, 2017). As opposed to traditional workers, who are compelled to advertise their skills
through word of mouth, gig workers, through online platforms, can get most of
their work and assignments there. Similarly, traditional contractors who had to
generate interest for their services can now use an app or website to reach
potential employees.

“The gig
economy is small but growing,” says Mariano Mamertino (2006), an economist at the popular job
site ‘Indeed’. “Clearly, interest in these roles is on the increase. They
appeal to workers who would like to work part-time around other
responsibilities, or as a supplement to their regular full-time job. In some cases,
workers are trading in the regular 9-to-5 altogether and working a gig job full
time on their own schedule.” This rise in the numbers is giving organisations
the opportunity to employ multiple temporary employees and have them undertake
tasks and services, that generally would be done by one or two permanent
employees. The ability to outsource the freelancers at subsidised rates, as
well as the potential to crowdsource, appeals to all the different varieties of
businesses, particularly the entrepreneurs and the small scale start-ups.

Small
businesses make use of these sites as a substitute to adding to their staff,
thus having a lower overhead. The Zurich SME Risk index surveyed various small
businesses in the UK in 2017, and found that two-third of employers (70 per
cent) that employed gig economy workers to their businesses agreed that gig economy
workers are important to their company’s profitability. As the ever evolving
economy has always been uncertain and challenging to these smaller businesses
to navigate through, saving on aspects like design, marketing etc., allows them
to finance further new areas. Adding to that, while new and smaller companies
give a higher corporation tax to the treasury, the reduction in the number of
employees, decreases the income tax and national insurance contributions by a
great amount (Institute for Fiscal studies, 2016).

While the gig economy has an impact on the whole spectre of
professions. Yet it has a massive effect which can be seen in the design
sector. With over 59 per cent of gig workers found in the professional and
creative services (RSA, 2017). This was expected though, as before the rise of
the ‘Sharing economy’ majority of the online platforms established were mainly
for freelancers, copy editors or graphic designers, interested in the available
part-time opportunities. As the gig economy becomes more prevalent and spreads across
the design industry, with its pros comes a set of cons. It is to make note that
the design industry consists not only of the contactors, employers or the
traditional full time employees, but also the freelancers and part-time workers
bought in with the wave of the gig economy.

Despite its appeal to most businesses, the gig economy does
disappoint when it comes to creative professionals, particularly those residing
in the developed and developing countries, who have a higher cost of living as
well as increased expenses while producing work. As both small and medium size
businesses that hire in-house designers are no longer doing so, designers are
finding themselves overworked and underpaid. The preference of generalists over
specialists has increased significantly along with the growth of the gig
economy. Despite being brought in as a designer, many creative professionals
are expected to do more work, like administering the website, social media
manager etc., for the same income as they would be paid for just one role. As a
result, they find themselves working outside the scope of their speciality and
are forced to learn new skills as they go ahead, sometimes even technical or
non-design related tasks. The demand for specialists is shrinking as more employers
look to cut costs. This is becoming the new norm in most of the design firms,
as design and art departments are being reserved for the bigger companies. For
many of the companies that don’t rely on radically creative concepts and key
art work, why hire a designer at all? They could have their marketing manager
purchase a few images, and perfect their use of editing tools and apps. While
that was an employer’s perspective, a designer as an employee would feel
conflicted while deciding their loyalty or dedication to the company as they
are made to feel disposable and not valued aptly. With all the available
options on the online freelance platforms, designers would moonlight and take
advantage of the gig economy.

Crowd sourcing sites are another
reason of designer problems as they bring with them the increase in the number
of freelancers. Here arises the main problem, the misuse of the label “Designer”.
There are many individuals who lack a proper design education, both formally
and informally, yet are labelled designers because they use the same online
platforms as creative professionals. Though this is not a new problem in the
design industry, paid amateurs and hobby pursuers, who use bootleg versions of
design software, want the same recognition and respect as industry
professionals, and at times even do market themselves as professionals. This
market place confusion, makes it hard for contractors to understand the value
of established designers and other creators. Thus their experience of working
with professional designers and the value of that gets diluted. This lack in
the distinction between professional designers with the rise of the gig economy
becomes increasingly saturated.

Designers and creative professionals
who desire the stability of a 9-5 job and consistent pay still do exist. But
the increase in the numbers, as well as the numerous options available result
in the oversaturation of the job market. There is no shortage of designers
seeking both full time and part time employment, making entry into the industry
an arduous job for those seeking stability. Designers with experience face
devaluation, due to the saturated market and abundance of options, leaving them
with less leverage while negotiating a reasonable income.  This forces designers to join the freelancers,
to make ends meet, despite having an in-house position. More than the sentiment
of disloyalty to their employer, this decision is a practical and sensible way
of looking at job security and income. As design gets more accessible, it
becomes a far more misunderstood profession amongst laymen and non-creative
individuals.

An increase in the designer’s profession also leads to increased
competition. While there are a number of jobs to go around, the main issue
comes down to geography (Blake, 2016). Though many companies prefer employees
on site, and technology hasn’t been embraced completely in their employment
work flow, that means there might not be enough local jobs to sustain all the
local talent. Young designers entering the field would find themselves
competing for positions with far more experienced designers, who are displaced
due to the saturation of the job market. “This can be discouraging when getting
your start—and for older designers who are displaced by younger creatives.”
(Blake, 2016)

The process of employing and dismissing
of designers, as well as salary negotiation is also affected by the market
saturation. When the skills of a creative individual are treated as a
commodity, salary negotiations become inflexible, as there is always another
replacement for your position in the market, who would do it for less if not
the same. While designing jobs aren’t entirely going away, employers are
becoming more comfortable hiring freelance creative for what would be in house
projects. It has gotten to a point where many firms do not require a team of
full time designers, and do not have enough work to justify a whole work week. It
then becomes far more practical to hire on a project by project basis. Increase
in freelancing serves as a representation of the fact that there is a decrease
in the traditional in house design positions in the small and medium business
sector. Though the lack of job opportunities may not be felt by the established
designers in big design firms, new entrants into the job market are faced with
not only with this, but also the feeling of being undervalued. Though
traditionally, designers would work their way up from a low level position over
the span of a few years, a shift can now be noticed, as opportunities diminish
for new designers in the traditional job market while competing with far more
established designers. As a result of this, many designers start their careers
as freelancers, trying to build up their reputation and credentials before
applying for full time employment.

From the perspective of the freelancers, the
online platforms, despite being beneficial while creating the buyer/seller
market place, raise numerous ethical questions on taxing and data security. These
platforms also do provide workers with a steady stream of assignments, but
freelancers do not always get a stable income. With periods of little to no
work, employment is rarely guaranteed. It was found out that most of the gig
works get infrequent jobs, as “14 percent work at least once or twice a month, 13 percent work once
or twice a week, and 24 percent work regularly in a week (RSA, 2017). This
lifestyle isn’t suited to every individual. There is also a lack of employment
rights. As there are currently three types of employment status in the UK employment
law: 1. An employee, who works under a contract of employment and enjoys
various employee protections and benefits. 2. A worker who neither works with a
contract of employment nor is self-employed, and 3. An Independent contractor: Someone
who is self-employed. Self-employed individuals have far fewer employment
rights and benefits when compared to full-time staff. This often includes a no
sick pay, holiday allowances or company pensions. A full time worker is entitled
to getting the national minimum wage, but an independent contractor, who
provides services to clients as a business on their own account may not be
eligible to obtain it. “It is also recognised
that applying the national minimum wage to those in the gig economy is a
challenge as it is difficult to say when an individual is genuinely available
for work and not simply logged into an app, for example.” (Buchanan et
all, 2017). Self-employed people have to track and pay their own taxes
as well. The tax legislation only recognises an
individual’s status as either an employee or an independent contractor. This
can be complex for those working in the gig economy as they may be working in
different places across various sectors. Brexit, which occurred in 2017, also
had an impact on companies operating in the gig economy who rely on EU migrant
staff is heavily dependent on the relationship which is negotiated with the EU.
One of the key issues to be resolved is regarding the new immigration rules,
which might restrict economic migration to high skilled migrants. This could be
a problem for firms who rely on foreign nationals to make up their workforce.

There is a silver lining to every problem though,
despite the issues faced by the design industry due to the rise of the gig
economy. All the actors of the industry have found different ways to cope with
these issues. The possibilities of surviving in this industry, regardless of
the changing times, do exist, it would take more effort than anticipated. Being
able to face the challenges of an industry, while trying to build a reputation
is the key to success. Designers need to adjust and adapt to this new reality
and be prepared for it. For example, if the hiring company suffers a bad year
financially, a designer, despite serving for 5 years, may not be spared, as the
competition is severe. But the gig economy allows one to utilize their creative
skills and create a different revenue stream for themselves. Designers are even
found learning new skills that aren’t limited to their speciality. This would
increase their value enough to be retained by the current employer, even during
the tough times. This would make the in house designers a necessary business
expense, as they would find ways to quantify their effect on the business. With
the oversaturation of the job market, it could be implied that majority of the
talent available would be average at best. So by outperforming the competition,
newcomers can find a way to cope with the creative individuals they are
competing against. Quality would always be the key when it comes to playing the
field. New comers and struggling amateurs would have their resolve tested by employers,
clients and the competition. In addition to building a strong portfolio,
freelancers and new designers constantly network, with both potential employers
as well as any individual who would potentially refer you in the event of a new
opportunity.

In
conclusion, the increase in Gig workers, particularly in the UK design industry
has risen three key questions that highlight the points discussed: Is the
design sector ready for the implications brought on with the rise of the Gig
economy? Will the Government recognise the creative individuals who are self-employed,
and provide them with equal rights as those who work under a contract? Will the
design sector adapt and learn methods of educating the new designers, while
still maintaining the established designers? The ‘Gig Economy’ has affected and
changed the face of the design industry both in terms of employment as well as
opportunities. Despite its setbacks, the gig economy, which itself falls under the umbrellas
of the sharing economy and the ‘platform economy’, is a much bigger phenomenon.
It has its own benefits and disadvantages, that influence the
industry on a whole. comprehensive research suggest that the gig economy could grow exponentially
over coming years. (RSA, 2017) Greater awareness is needed among policymakers, actors
of the design industry and the public of this diverse and vastly growing sector.
Though there are certain short term issues that can be dealt with, through
updating and clarifying the laws and regulations that have been applied, a less
binary approach to the concept of the gig economy would also be beneficial.