If we reflect back to the times of our elders, it was the norm for young people to find a good employer or job, and then stay in it for the rest of their lives. And most were quite happy doing this! Even in those days there were surely people who could not or did not work full-time and had part-time jobs, but perhaps this was more out of compulsion, than choice. The concept of working part-time or having a ‘side gig’ was not considered as something valuable as people always welcomed stability and consistency in their life. While we still work towards having stability, the perception of consistency has since evolved and it may not always be achievable, more so after Covid. Now it has become quite common for people to opt for multiple streams of revenue and work as a freelancer on various fronts, particularly in the services sector.
The gig economy, as it is called, is that segment of the labour market which is characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. It is not altogether a new concept. This working framework has existed since businesses started hiring temporary or seasonal workers.
For a developing country like Pakistan, with unemployment being a concern and with 64 percent of its population under the age of 30 (the youth, aged 15-29 make up 41.6 percent of the country’s total labour force, according to the Pakistan National Human Development Report (NHDR) by the UNDP), the gig economy model may be a welcome solution. An Oxford Internet Institute (OII) report ranks Pakistan 4th in the global digital gig marketplace, with about 8% of the total freelance work in 2017.
Last year, Pakistan generated an amount of $500 million entirely from freelancing and has ranked as the 4th fastest growing markets in the world for freelancers.
However, a large proportion of the labour currently employed within the gig economy in Pakistan tends to be those who are previously unemployed or have very little experience or skill.
This naturally translates to higher participation rates within this economy when it comes to women and youth. A major factor that has been further favouring this trend has been a rise of on-demand start-ups and e-commerce companies.
All over the world, the traditional workforce is moving towards the gig economy - where people work flexible hours and essentially are their own boss. While traditional employment may have lost its lustre, Pakistan still has a long way to go as the gig economic model is largely adopted for supplementary income.
While a certain segment of home-based tech oriented freelancers was always there, Pakistan has seen a rise of online food and grocery delivery riders, home-based chefs, cab and bike drivers of ride hailing companies, and other delivery services in the last few years.
We see riders roaming the streets of almost all major cities in Pakistan wearing pink, green, orange and so many other colours. This reflects how Pakistan has come a long way in becoming a digital and tech-based economy where customers are now asking for speed and convenience along with quality and value for money. Top performing e-commerce companies and the start-ups entering the market have shaken-up not only the way Pakistanis eat, travel, shop, and do groceries but also how people perceive dignified work.
This evolution also means that income generation options for youth and women can now be digitised or automated in a manner that stands to make the process much more efficient.
This ensures diversification, multiple revenue streams, and increases the number of jobs that a worker can get. If there is one thing we can learn from successful home-grown start-ups and e-commerce platforms, it’s that the best possible way to help empower people and create shared value is to help people capitalise on their existing skill sets, while also working on up-skilling. According to the NHDR, at the current participation and unemployment levels and considering the number of retirees, Pakistan needs to create 4.5 million jobs over the next 5 years (0.9 million jobs annually), which reflects the gap when it comes to availability of employment opportunities.
Through the available freelancer gig opportunities people can become economically empowered using abilities and talents they already have.
While not everyone can opt for a white collar job, a nation’s preference ought to be youth that is engaged in some kind of income generation rather than increased unemployment in the country. This is reason enough to celebrate the rise of e-commerce and the start-up growth spurt in the country which has led to the growth of such freelancers/gig workers who can earn as per their own schedule and generate income opportunities for themselves.
The writer is an industry official