Young Job Seekers Optimistic About Gig Economy, Fear Robots at Work

By Roy Maurer Mar 29, 2016
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The workplace is changing, but that’s OK for many people looking for new work. Amid a growing on-demand gig economy, the threat of job automation and a tighter labor market, 44 percent of identified job seekers said they are optimistic about job prospects.

Recruiting technology company Jobvite conducted the poll in February 2016 among 2,305 participants.

Almost a fifth of all respondents (19 percent) have held a gig-type job, defined as a short-term, contracted or project-based job.

Of those who’ve worked in the on-demand economy, 56 percent have considered their “gig” a full-time job, while 36 percent have considered it a part-time job in addition to another job.

Gig workers are most likely to be in their 30s (31 percent), followed by 18-29-year-olds (25 percent). They are also more likely to be men (22 percent vs. 13 percent women).

Millennials (25 percent) were found to be four times as likely to have supplemented their income with a gig-type job as Baby Boomers (6 percent). Millennial job seekers also reported being much more optimistic than Baby Boomers about finding a job that’s right for them (56 percent vs. 31 percent).

“Millennials don’t fear the gig economy—they are the ones helping to drive this trend,” said Mike Ettling, president of SAP SuccessFactors, an HR software company based in San Francisco.

“It makes sense that a group like them would embrace flexible work,” agreed Poonam Sharma Mathis, founder and CEO of StealthForce.co, a real estate talent network. “A cohort so comfortable with technology, so unaccustomed to steady incomes as the norm, and so much more focused on lifestyle and meaningful work than the paycheck alone is tailor-made for project work.”

The flexibility that younger workers desire often reflects their lifestyle priorities, Ettling explained. “It gives them a chance to dial up or dial back at work. Maybe they’ve recently had a new baby, maybe they are caring for an elderly parent, maybe they are looking to improve their skills or learn a new trade.”

On-demand work can also be a benefit to businesses in a war for talent, Ettling said, “where they can tap into the highest skilled people out there, whether they are within your organization’s traditional salary boundaries or beyond.”

Experts agree that the era of the traditional workforce and the company loyalist is being phased out. “The days of 30-year careers at one company, no outside interests, and no employee-agency in their own daily work are over, in part, because the inflexible work norms that have so far been accepted will be unacceptable to the next generation,” Sharma Mathis said.

Ian Cluroe, head of global brand and marketing for London-based recruiting firm Alexander Mann Solutions, sees the rise of the gig economy as a benefit to workers of all generations. “It’s less a generational issue than one of circumstance,” he said. “There are lots of retired Baby Boomers who aren’t quite ready to give up working altogether who look for contract work, whether it’s former engineers working on short assignments or former blue-collar workers driving for Uber. Or it’s a new parent who isn’t quite ready to go back to work full time but wants to make some extra money while staying home to look after a young child.”

Cluroe stressed that Millennials ultimately want to have “what we’d call a normal life—a rewarding career, a family of their own and a home.” So on-demand work can be integrated into any worker’s long-term ambitions. When recruiting for gig-type work, “think about how you can position this gig economy job as a stepping stone—or at least a valuable experience—that can help them ultimately build a career,” he said.

Some companies have tried to meet the rise of contract workers by placing more value on employee loyalty, Ettling said. “But this doesn’t map to today’s realities. Rather than placing more emphasis on length of employment alone, leaders must listen to their employees’ needs and desires and offer competitive compensation, suitable benefits, training, mentorship and mobility, and work to develop a mutually beneficial relationship.” 

Robots and Other Scary Things

Loosening the traditional employer-employee relationship doesn’t scare younger workers, but they are concerned about the trend toward job obsolescence, whether it’s by automation or outsourcing, according to the Jobvite survey. While 39 percent of job seekers in total said they “are somewhat or very concerned” about job obsolescence, 46 percent of those between 18-39 years old said so.

“It could make sense that Millennials would fear the automation and outsourcing of work, depending on what that means to them,” said China Gorman, board chair of Universum North America and former chief operating officer and interim CEO at the Society for Human Resource Management. “At Universum, we see more and more that Millennials and Gen Zers are most concerned with having an impact at work. A company’s purpose and meaning in their jobs has become more important than its products. While automation means increased efficiency to companies, Millennials might see it as a removal of autonomy, as well as the diminution of meaning.” 

Universum’s global survey of Generation Z—the next cohort already entering the workforce—revealed that the youngest workers’ biggest career fears were “getting stuck with no development opportunities, not realizing their career goals and not getting a job that matches their personality,” Gorman said.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMRoy

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