You’ve probably heard the phrase “gig economy” in the news, or when researching part-time work. It’s in common use, but not always clearly understood – here, our student intern Stephanie Gray explains what it means and how it is relevant to you.
After discussing the terminology and identifying some positive – and less positive – aspects, she lists some examples of platforms and sites for hospitality, tutoring and other types of work, and finishes with a list of questions you should consider before signing up to them.
What do we mean by the Gig Economy?
- One definition of the gig economy is ‘a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts and freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.’(Oxford Dictionary)
- The term ‘gig’ refers to an individual task or assignment. Gig workers are often paid for the work they do. This could mean doing one-off pieces of work or shifts for different employers via temp agencies and online platforms or regularly doing the same task for one employer with variable hours depending on demand. For example, an Uber driver might be paid a set rate for the trips they do and an AirBnB host will be paid every time a guest stays in their property. This means they have no hourly or daily pay rates and their income will vary depending on demand for their services.
Self-Employment vs Being an Employee
If you are a self-employed freelance worker, the organisations you work for, clients you offer services to and/or agencies and platforms you use to find temporary opportunities do not have the same legal obligation to give you the protections and benefits given to an employee. This includes sick pay, holiday pay and maternity or paternity pay.
Gig Economy and Freelancing – is there a difference?
Although the term gig economy overlaps with freelance work, there are some differences to bear in mind. Different sources will give slightly different definitions of the gig economy, but generally a gig worker is not the same as a freelance contractor. While some self-employed people on contracts may not have employee benefits like holiday pay and sick pay, they will have more job security than what we would describe as a gig worker. This is because a contract guarantees that you’ll be working for a specified amount of time which could be several months whereas a gig opportunity is likely to be much shorter term and you will not have guaranteed work. Contractors are more likely to be working full-time and their contracts will usually generate their main income. While it’s possible for gig workers to work the equivalent of full-time hours and earn enough to support themselves, it is much less certain and not advisable in the case of gigs which pay less than minimum wage.
As a student, you should consider whether you want to have a steady income from part-time work, or whether you are simply trying to build some experience and earn a little bit of extra money here and there. A permanent part-time job offers more long-term stability and benefits such as sick pay and holiday pay. However, freelance opportunities across most sectors are more accessible for those with limited or no experience – and some gig economy platforms target students for this reason.
If you are a student here on a Student Visa you are not allowed to be self-employed. This is likely to include working as a freelancer, contractor or consultant. If you are thinking of doing a gig economy job you must check directly with the company to find out whether you would be working on a self-employed basis. If the answer is yes, you should not do this work.
Pros and Cons of Gig Work – Things to Watch Out for
- Flexible working hours – often there is no minimum weekly commitment
- Often easy to access gig work without lots of experience
- You can work in different organisations and make a wider network of contacts rather than committing to one role
- Lack of job security
- Hours and pay often not guaranteed
- Fewer benefits ( in many cases, no holiday pay or sick pay)
- Often gig economy workers will earn less than an employee who is doing the same number of hours
- It is sometimes difficult to know how much you’ll earn when you apply to or start off doing gig work
- Trade unions often argue that some gig economy companies are violating workers’ rights
Looking for flexible shift work?
Here are some examples of online platforms and agencies which recruit temporary hospitality staff or one-off opportunities. We do not endorse these organisations and you should do your own research and consult our list of Key Questions to Ask (below).
All of these sites will market themselves to sound appealing and you need to pay attention to the Terms and Conditions and research your options to find out what is right for you. If you would like more advice, you can contact us for guidance. Remember that researching by yourself first will help us to give you tailored advice and will boost your confidence in making your own decision.
As many of these example sites do not make it clear what benefits their temp staff will get, we recommend that you contact them or research this further before signing up with them.
- Pros: Flexible working schedule; set your own rate and see which employers match it; get confirmed instantly for shifts.
- Cons: it is not clear on their website what benefits their temp staff get. Contact them to find out, before signing up.
- Pros: Free training and skills development programmes; holiday pay and pensions; free of charge to use the app; payslip stored on app.
- Cons: We cannot endorse external third party organisations. Read the Terms and Conditions of Employment and do your research before committing to these opportunities.
Stint for Students
- Pros: No minimum hours; flexible working; no formal interview/application process so easier/quicker for first job; no experience needed; no charges.
- Cons: Not clear on their website what benefits their temp staff get. Contact them to find out before signing up.
Recruitment Agencies specialising in events and hospitality
- Offer: Temporary, flexible, Part-time, promo, event and hospitality staff.
- Pros: endorsed by Employment 4 Students site; National Living Wage to all staff ; allows staff to access pay straight after their shift; marketed towards students.
- Cons: Mainly seems to recruit for big venues and events, not ideal in the context of Covid-19.
The Temp Agency (Employed Direct)
- Pros: send availability for the following week and they suggest shifts – flexible around studies; Scotland based; interview and induction process.
- Cons: it is not clear on their website what benefits their temp staff will get so we would advise you to contact them or research this before signing up.
- Pros: student testimony on website; recruits event staff across the UK; offers training opportunities.
- Cons: risk of events being cancelled due to Covid-19; not clear on their website what benefits their temp staff get – contact them to find out before signing up.
Want to try freelancing?
Freelance work is common for students and often advisable for those wanting to work in the creative industries. It is also often easier for a student with limited experience to try things like tutoring, project work, content creation, digital marketing, graphic design and translation on a freelance or voluntary basis as opposed to trying to find long-term part-time employment in these sectors. Taking on this kind of freelance work while you’re studying can be a step towards professional internships and work placements which will allow you to hone these skills in a more traditional office environment.
Freelancing platforms and agencies
- Pros: pay as you go; earnings up to £20 an hour; don’t need teaching qualifications; interview process; provides training.
- Cons: the site requires you to have high grades in some school qualifications and to take an interview.
- Pros: payment taken automatically after each lesson; can do with no experience; online and in-person so can choose a preference; plenty of student profiles; free to sign up.
- Cons: not solely for students, professional teachers on there too.
Upwork (project work and professional services)
- Pros: you can find freelance work with ‘entry’ experience level; provides lots of guidance on freelancing as a topic including for beginners.
- Cons: not tailored overtly towards students
People per Hour (project work and professional services)
- Pros: offers part-time/flexible options; clients come to you with projects and you set a quote; good for getting professional experience.
- Cons: website advertises ‘expert freelancers,’ so it may not be ideal if you have no experience at all; is not overtly tailored or marketed towards students.
Questions to Ask – Online Gig Economy and Freelancing Platforms and Agencies
- Does the intermediary platform or organisation charge a fee or take a cut of your earnings? Recruitment agencies in the UK are legally not allowed to charge fees for helping you find work, but other intermediary platforms may be legally allowed to charge fees if they do not classify themselves as a recruitment agency.
- Can you find out how much you will be paid per shift before committing? If not, are you comfortable with this uncertainty – or would you prefer a permanent job
- Does the intermediary platform or organisation offer any benefits or protections?
- Does the agency or intermediary platform name the employer? If not, you should consider whether you are comfortable applying to a role when you do not know the name of the employer up front.
- Do you have the opportunity to choose how much you charge for a service or commission?
- Do you prefer the structured, fixed hours of a traditional job or is flexibility important to you?
- If an organisation or intermediary is recruiting for temporary event staff, do they have policies in place for what they will do for their temporary staff if the event is cancelled due to Covid-19? You should keep in mind Scottish or UK government Covid-19 guidelines and your own risk factors and vaccination status before taking on this kind of work. If necessary, consider the position you will be in if the organisation does not pay you in the event of Covid-19 cancellations.
- If you are signing up for an agency or online platform – is there a minimum hours commitment per week? and if so, is this something manageable?
Thanks to Stephanie for all the research that went into creating this post.