The way we work has evolved from generation to generation, with a particularly rapid rate of change in the past decade. Where our grandparents may have once worked in one (local) job for life, advances in technology, changes in societal attitudes and financial necessity mean that people now have a much more flexible approach to employment. Even the very term ‘gig economy’ – derived from ‘gig work’ (originally referring to the jobbing jazz musicians of the 1920s) was only coined at the height of the financial crisis in 2009 before entering mainstream public usage a few years later.
Yet this relatively recent concept now accounts for 4.7 million workers, or one in 10 adults. But despite the vital role this fledgling demographic plays in not only employing millions (not to mention servicing millions more), they are regarded with something approaching contempt by many employers. Often overworked and under-protected, these workers are often seen as disposable labour, viewed with suspicion by the HMRC, as shown by the introduction of the IR35 legislation.
Yet, there are a number of reasons why individuals choose temporary openings rather than permanent roles, including but not limited to: fitting work around family or care arrangements, uncertainty around career path, funding educational commitments and simply as a lifestyle choice.
People in this bracket number almost one million in the UK at last count, yet they often remain somewhat marginalised compared to their permanent counterparts. One of the latest examples of this is temporary workers being excluded from the government’s apprenticeship levy scheme, as highlighted in a recent report by the REC. For those temporary workers who wish to command improved salaries, greater job security and enhance their own skills, getting on such a scheme would be an obvious next step, but they are automatically excluded because their assignments do not last 12 months, placing them in a catch-22 situation.
Temporary workers perform a vital role across a variety of sectors and their employment status shouldn’t rule them out of the same opportunities afforded their full-time peers. Neither should a glass ceiling prevent people making the transition from temp to perm should their circumstances change and they wish to make the switch. At present, temporary workers are being locked out of the system, leaving dangerous skill shortages in critical sectors such as health and social care and education, along with industries more commonly associated with a contingent workforce such as hospitality and construction.
Technological innovation has not only helped create a raft of new opportunities, it has also made it easier for companies and individuals to manage the process. Pixid offers a vendor management system for SMEs and agencies, for instance, but also utilises tech to make life easier for temporary workers too. The software is accessible via smartphones to help workers track assignment details, upload documents and receive remittance or pay slips. Such a level of functionality is often taken for granted, particularly by permanent workers with access to HR teams, but is essential for those without a safety net.
If the growth of the gig economy is anything to go by, flexible ways of working are here to stay and temporary workers are the most established sub-section of that. They play an integral role in our society and it is vital that the government recognises their importance and gives them every chance to access the same opportunities as their permanent peers.