The rise of the freelance or “gig” economy is driving a historic shift in the way people work. Image: REUTERS/Charles Platiau
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In 2017, it wasn’t just the daily news cycle that seemed to move faster than ever before. Almost every day offered a fresh reminder that we are living through a period of rapid, profound change. This is especially true in the business world, where new technologies and innovations are disrupting everything from the cars we drive – or that, increasingly, drive themselves – to the currency we use to buy them.
With so many changes happening at once, the conversation around innovation often focuses on the fallout: we are witnessing the disruption of industries and economies across the globe. Yet while the pace of change poses a challenge for many businesses and workers, the reality is that innovation is not merely disruptive. It is also one of the most powerful tools we have for promoting inclusive capitalism – the idea that businesses should work to create long-term value for stakeholders across society.
To that end, here are three ways that global businesses can use technological innovations to build more inclusive economies, provide jobs and training, and help create a better, shared future for everyone.
1. Embrace the gig economy
The gig economy has unlocked huge opportunity for people who want flexibility in how they work – and technology is largely responsible for that. Today, freelance workers can find job opportunities like never before by using websites and smartphone apps that act as matchmakers between freelancers and potential employers.
Now, this rise of the freelance or “gig” economy is driving a historic shift in the way people work. There are currently more than 57 million freelancers in the U.S. – and it’s not just people in wealthy countries who are benefitting from these opportunities. The growing market for digital gig work is also creating new ways for workers in places like India and sub-Saharan Africa to access and participate in the global economy.
Wherever they are, freelancers can increasingly work on their own terms, with the flexibility that their lives demand. That’s good for them, and it’s good for businesses, too. It makes it possible for businesses to tap into workers with very specialized skills when they need them – and it allows those freelancers to control the parameters of how they work.
This is why, at EY, we recently created a new global talent marketplace called GigNow. It’s a place to post short-term assignments, making it easy to match freelance workers with relevant projects at EY. To make sure the freelancers we work with have the best possible experience, we also offer them training and education opportunities that can benefit them throughout their careers.
In the months since launching in March 2017, GigNow has already connected freelancers to more than 1,000 contract positions throughout EY. The marketplace is now operating in six countries – Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S. – and is scheduled to launch in India in the coming weeks.
EY is one of growing number of large enterprises working to seize this opportunity. In fact, an August 2017 study of nine Fortune 500 firms found that, over the previous year, the number of projects sourced via online freelancing platforms increased by 26%.
2. Revolutionize training and development
By one estimate, automation could lead to the displacement of between 400 million and 800 million workers globally by 2030. But the reality is that it’s not jobs that are going away – it’s tasks. As businesses deploy new technologies to automate certain tasks, it also creates a major opportunity for workers with the right skills and mindset to solve more complex challenges. This means training the workforce for the digital age is critical for both businesses and workers to prosper.
This is why businesses are fundamentally rethinking their approaches to career development in the digital age. At EY, we're working to help ensure that our people can succeed in a world where they’ll be working with technology that hasn’t even been invented yet with a new model for career development and performance called LEAD. Now our people talk to their managers every 90 days about where they want to take their career. Then, together, they make a plan to achieve it. Often, this will mean taking a course in data analytics, artificial intelligence, or another in-demand skill.
We’ve also created a program, EY badges, which offers people a step-by-step process to learn these new skills and become experts in new areas. If they want to become proficient in data analytics, for example, they can earn a badge by taking a course, getting hands-on experience that demonstrates what they learned, and then bringing that new knowledge to others by coaching a colleague or publishing an article on the topic. People can display their badges as part of their credentials both inside and outside the organization, which opens up new opportunities, and increases their long-term professional value. That way, digital disruption and new technologies don’t have to be threats, but opportunities to continue to grow as a professional.
3. Harness big data to promote inclusive capitalism
Big data and advanced analytics are giving us unprecedented amounts of information regarding the performance and impact of businesses around the world – and we can use that information to make economic growth more inclusive.
In 2016, the world generated more than 16 zettabytes of data (that’s 16 followed by 21 zeros), according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) – and that number is expected to skyrocket to 163 zettabytes by 2025. To put this into perspective, in 2009 the entire internet measured just half a zettabyte.
As a result, we are seeing rapid growth in the big data and business analytics industry. That’s important for inclusive growth because, for the first time, it is possible to measure the value that companies create for stakeholders across society, including their workers and communities. We can also measure how investments in areas like human capital contribute to a company’s long-term profits. And when businesses are able to quantify the value of these kinds of investments, they’re empowered to keep making them.
While there are a number of ongoing efforts to measure long-term value creation, there is still no standard way of doing so. That’s why EY and the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism have teamed up with 33 companies, asset owners and asset managers with $27 trillion in assets under management on the Embankment Project – an ambitious effort to create new and better metrics for measuring long-term value creation. The exact metrics are still being determined, but we are discussing everything from investments in talent to environmental, social and governance practices. If we want to advance the cause of inclusive growth, measuring how these elements add to a company’s bottom line is critical, and big data gives us the ability to do just that.
From innovation to inclusiveness
These are just a few of the ways that innovation is already helping to promote more inclusive economies. Ultimately, it’s clear that new technologies are going to affect virtually every company, every industry, and every part of the global economy. As we prepare for the future, it’s critical that we work together to demonstrate that innovation is not just disruptive, but inclusive, too.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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