Narissa Subramoney
Copy rewriter
3 minute read
27 May 2022
2:58 pm

Old thinking hindering new opportunities in gig economy

Narissa Subramoney

Industry leaders say eight-hour work days are obsolete

Mindset changes and policy reform needed to allow people to take advantage of the gig economy. Picture - iStock.

Industry experts at a Future of Work roundtable say a ‘significant shift in traditional mindsets’ is needed if we want to take advantage of the employment opportunities the digital era has to offer.

Local tech industry leaders from Uber, business tech consulting company Productivity SA, investment company TZoro IBC and e-learning company Civic Tech were among panelists at Thursday’s round table gathering hosted by Moneyweb and CNBC Africa.

Leaders shared their perspectives on how technology shapes diverse forms of work and the intricacies that come with it.

Future of Work roundtable in Johannesburg. Picture: thebarefootfacilitator.co.za

56.7 million people transacting on digital platforms

The sentiment among panelists was unanimous: the technology is readily available to enable income generation, but for equitable outcomes to be possible – there has to be a shift from traditional mindsets.

Since arriving on South Africa’s shores in 2013, Uber has attracted over 20,000 independent drivers and delivery people that use the Uber and Uber Eats apps.

These numbers are an indication of how the gig economy can create revenue-generating opportunities across all sectors of society.

“According to a 2019 Insight2Impact report, South Africa has over 100 active digital platforms, which serve 56.7 million people,” said Uber Sub-Saharan Africa‘s Ofentse Mokwena.

“Of these platforms, 59% are homegrown with the most common being “freelance” followed by “shopping”.

Eight-hour workdays obsolete

Mokwena said technology is a catalyst in bringing to life an ecosystem that provides alternative means of generating income.

“Digital entrepreneurs can freely emerge and thrive despite a strained economy,” Mokwena said.

While South African consumers, who predominantly access independent contractor services in the gig economy through web browsers and smartphone apps, and are increasingly engaging through these platforms, traditionalists are still clinging to the eight-hour workday construct.

This kind of thinking, panelists say, essentially stifles the progress of the revenue-generating opportunities that currently exist in the country.

“Everyone tries to ‘arrest’ the future of work which is ever-changing. What we need is to understand that anything digital is a friend and not the enemy, and we need to maintain human connection within this digital world,” said Productivity SA chairman Mthunzi Mdwaba.

“The future of work is already here, and we need to firstly ask what are the mechanisms to make it fair and secondly, make it an opportunity to unlock unseen potential,” Mdwaba added.

People putting their well-being first

Without a doubt, the most challenging part of digital transformation is the human side of change.

Technology may have shaped how goods and people move, “but to improve the sustainability of digital entrepreneurship, wider policy reforms are required to improve the ease of earning a living in a gig economy,” explained Mokwena.

Rehana Moosajee, founder and owner of business relations company The Barefoot Facilitator, explained that people are making more cognisant decisions about their well-being in the post-Covid era.

In addition, legal analyst and human rights activist, Nkanyiso Ngqulunga notes that we need to harmonise the needs on the ground with what has been provided through the digital landscape, and not discard these opportunities.

Gig-economy here to stay

Despite the challenges faced by the gig economy its ability to innovate and collaborate is driving the movement forward.

Civil society organisations like NPOs and NGOs are increasingly tapping into the digital world to address societal issues.

“We find that connecting innovators from different parts of the continent is something that assists with collaboration and ensuring that we’re building on some of the lessons and the trials and errors of previous innovators,” Civic Tech Innovation Network‘s Sihle Gcilitshana said.

Gcilitshana stressed that the future of work and the development of the gig economy are happening now.

“While we talk about the changing ways of work in the future tense, it’s important to acknowledge that the future of gig work is already at play in various shapes and forms.

“We need to confront the next frontier in a manner that fills the institutional voids in regulation and education; accelerate access to earning opportunities while accounting for the social and economic implications,” said Mokwena.

“The time has come to unlock the digital entrepreneurship ecosystem in Africa,” he concluded.

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