Where are the Jobs For Humans In The Gig Economy
While the gig/on-demand/sharing economy has been touted as the growth of a new economic (and innovation) engine, and more jobs, even by myself, I’m finding it harder and harder to see that it has long term legs, at least for some of the bigger companies currently in that space. Sure, over the next maybe 5-10 years, the gig economy will continue to grow, although if you ask me it won’t grow because people will gravitate towards the supposed “freedom” this work will allow, but due to the fact traditional corporate work will continue to disappear due to productivity gains and automation. While I have argued before on this blog that automation is a good thing, I’m starting to wonder if most of what the gig economy is doing is creating a new menial class. It’s creating work, alright, but that work barely requires a human. Even these jobs will eventually be replaced again by simply more advanced automation, such as autonomous vehicles and drones.
When I wrote Applauding Jobs Lost To Automation, I was trying to make the point that if you have lost your job through automation, then that may be a good thing, because that means that your job may no longer be fit for humans to perform. I argue that this is a good thing, because now you, as a human, can do something much, much better in order to earn a living. Problem is, very few gig economy companies are creating jobs for humans, by that definition. While the gig economy sounds great in theory, the jobs which it creates typically do not require the higher order thinking that jobs for humans should require, in my opinion. In fact, most gig economy and sharing economy companies create jobs which will likely easily be wiped out with the next wave of innovation. For example:
- Uber / Lyft / BlahBlahCar : driving services, uses humans to drive. Will be replaced by autonomous vehicles
- Postmates / Instacart /DoorDash and countless others: delivery services, using humans to pickup and deliver physical objects. Will be replaced by delivery drones.
- Handy / Taskrabbit: general tasks. Skill levels vary greatly, so may not be wiped out immediately. However, supply will drive down wages to a minimum in this space
Many of the on-demand, sharing or gig economy players leverage an easily learnable skill, such as driving or delivery, and therefore, can be completed by a workforce with little added training. Most of the jobs the above companies and their like create, require physical manual labor, but not a lot of thinking. And since they don’t require a lot of thinking, then they are ripe for automation.
There are some other companies, such as Thumbtack, Honor and Care.com, which are thrown under the banner of a gig or sharing economy, which if you ask me, are simply more advanced lead generation and matching engines than they really are shared economy businesses. These businesses do require skilled labor, so as far as I’m concerned, however if you look out far enough (and in Japan this is already happening with robot caregivers) those will be gone as well.
Most of the gig/sharing/on-demand economy companies focus on creating jobs automation can eventually take. Where are the sharing economy startups which focus on the skills only humans can provide? If you are ask me, we are spending too much time building businesses that focus on the physical side of bring human, and not the mental side of being human. Where are the gig economy startups which celebrate humanity, instead of turning us into a super efficient automatons?
Sure, there are some gig economy companies like Upwork and SketchDeck leveraging our creativity. But then there is Fiverr, which actually, IMHO, devalues our ability to think by pricing everything so low that it’s barely worth doing (I find it hard to believe sometimes that something like Fiverr does well, as it is such a perversion of a free market. I guess if the Fiverr sellers are willing to give away their expertise so cheaply, then who can argue?)
While it is true that there are a few gig economy startups which create work for humans, they are few are far between. We need, as entrepreneurs and humans, to create a new set of gig economy work which can’t just be swept away by automation: a new kind of work which can only be done by humans, requiring the higher order thinking that all humans have over any kind of automation. Humans have to thought of as being essential and important, and not just customers to extract money from, and provide automated services to.
That’s your challenge: entrepreneurs, in Silicon Valley or not, find a way create jobs for humans, and only for humans. Are you up to the challenge?