The gig economy is fast transforming India into the epicenter of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, writes Andre Kwok.
As we enter a new decade there is no doubt that we will continue to encounter massive transformations in the digital economy. Already we’re witnessing a drastic transition from traditional full-time, salaried employment to rapid growth in digital freelancing.
This recalibration of conventional employment has led to the expansion of the ‘gig economy’, comprising of remote freelance workers leveraging their various career backgrounds taking on both local and cross-border tech-based work.
India has experienced a significant increase in the number of freelance workers taking on varied project-based assignments. The nation has the largest freelance workforce in the Asia-Pacific region, ranking second globally behind the United States. The Oxford Internet Institute states that website and application software development mainly dominate the services that Indian freelancers provide, followed by multimedia and design, sales and marketing support, academic and content writing.
It is estimated that there are now roughly 15 million freelancers in India with 43 per cent of freelance workers being tech-savvy millennials.
The growth of this emerging economic model in India is largely tied to widespread internet penetration and increasingly affordable smartphones and computers. This is facilitated by government initiatives within the ‘Digital India’ campaign. This included a collaboration between Google India and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, providing software development training and greater freelancing opportunities in both urban and rural areas by improving high-speed internet access.
Digitisation, therefore, unlocks an enormous labour pool, which can engage with the wider economy remotely.
A benefit of the Indian digital gig economy is that freelancers are exempt from restrictions in the physical economy. This includes busy and costly commute in major metropolitan areas, enabling workers from small and medium-tier cities alongside rural freelancers to engage in remote work. This trend also enables freelancers to be agile, allowing working from home together with choosing their clients, projects and working hours based on preference, often translating professional and niche skills from previous full-time employment.
The magnitude of the gig economy can be seen in shifts in India’s real estate market, with the construction of new workspaces to accommodate this growing mobile workforce. These ‘co-working spaces’ have begun popping up all over India, offering an environment for collaborative work and also as a platform for like-minded professionals to network.
Despite some of downsides of freelancing such as no company health benefits and inconsistent work, there is growing digital infrastructure emerging to compensate. This enables growing numbers to leave their day jobs to pursue gigs on local platforms like TouchTalent and Freelance India.
These local platforms are complemented with international marketplaces including Freelancer and Upwork where freelancers display their profiles outlining their portfolios and qualifications.
A 2019 study by NobleHouse indicates how pervasive this shift in mentality has become with 73 per cent of respondents saying they would rather do freelance work over full-time employment.
Through these global recruitment platforms, we can see that well-established corporations are beginning to blend freelance workers into their operations. Consulting firms like PwC and EY have started integrating freelance workers with specific professional and industry skills with full-time consultants to collaboratively tackle complex projects.
For instance, EY has recognised the dynamism of freelancers in their new Gignow platform, linking Indian qualified freelancers to project-based opportunities in EY India.
As the founder of an international management consulting firm called Flexing It, Chandrika Pasricha, says: “We find that large corporates are increasingly leveraging independent consultants and freelancers to drive priority strategic projects and to pilot new product/service models. This is driven by a need for specific expertise and new thinking, the urgency of deliverables and also a need for flexibility”.
And, freelance workers are also pivotal in India’s start-up ecosystem. A challenge also faced by many businesses; freelancers are a viable solution to inadequate resources including costs of hiring full-time staff, on-boarding and training. This not only affords entrepreneurs a better return-on-investment, it also enables start-ups to operate more efficiently with reduced risk by outsourcing specific tasks to professional freelancers.
By observing the boom of freelance workers in India’s economy, we can see greater ripple effects of the digital economy in reshaping India’s employment landscape. Given the greater flexibility in effectively responding to the diverse needs from both start-ups and established global businesses, governments and decision-makers should explore further policies to better position and support freelance workers as key drivers in India’s fourth industrial revolution.