The Gig Economy

Gig Economy

When I was growing up, everyone was expected to work a 9 to 5 job with a pension, health care and other fringe benefits.  Only deadbeats turned down a “real” job to do their own thing.  Of course, even then cradle to grave employment was already a myth.

Lifetime employment with one employer went the way of the dodo bird in the 1970’s as the U.S. economy began opening up to international trade.  The auto industry, the bedrock of lifetime employment and gold-plated benefits, was the first to feel the shock.  To compete, the U.S. auto industry automated factories which meant they needed fewer workers.  That led to labor strikes and everyone blamed the Japanese auto makers for “stealing” American jobs.

In the 1980’s, President Ronald Reagan pursued his dream of “small government” which translated into de-regulating many industries.  That lowered costs to consumers but it also meant job losses.  One of the deregulated industries was trucking.  That led to more labor strikes and the occasional murder of non-union truck drivers.  Union members and their sympathizers used high-powered rifles to shoot at trucks driven by non-union drivers.  I remember holding my breath as I listened to the evening news, wondering if one of my truck driver relatives would be the next casualty.

In the 1980’s, companies automated many jobs to remain competitive.  They downsized and reorganized their workforces and cut their employee training budgets.  Today employers complain that workers are disengaged and lack loyalty to the company.  Here’s a news flash to employers: Employee engagement is not likely to come back.  Employees who are old enough to remember the 1980’s are not going to invest in a company that they believe won’t invest in them.

Millennials and Gen-Xers didn’t experience the wrenching changes of the 1970’s and 1980’s but their parents did.  So, in a sense, these younger workers grew up disengaged from their employers.  Rather than fitting into a box prepared by their prospective employers, they want to set their own hours and decide what work they will perform.

That’s not such a bad attitude because the economy has changed.  Our economy now thrives on technology that automates many jobs. Cloud-based software allows an entrepreneur to replicate an entire back office with little or no assistance.  Of course, this means that businesses large and small need fewer workers.  But it also means that the barriers to starting a business are lower which allows the self-employed and “gig economy” to grow.

A major concern is that government regulators are creating more rules that fit the old economy instead of the new “Uberized” economy.  Government service is virtually the only remaining industry with lifetime employment which may explain why the regulators are looking at the myth instead of the reality of today’s workplace.  Instead of more regulations, we need training programs to teach new skills to workers who have lost their jobs due to technological advances.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website:

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