The gig economy

Online talent platforms that connect freelancers with specific work opportunities (gigs) have grown dramatically over the last decade. A growing number of online talent platforms follow the contingent employment model but focus on one specialised offering: Uber, Lyft and Careem for taxi services on demand, and for child care services on demand.

Since its launch in 2009, Uber has built a contingent workforce, measuring some 3 million drivers globally across 65 countries making 15million trips every day. Uber is utilising technology to disrupt the traditional taxi industry.

Upwork (formerly Elance and oDesk) has created an online platform for business services, such as software programming and graphic design. The company reports that businesses are posting more than 3million freelance jobs every year, generating around $1billion in annual earnings for global freelancers.

In 2013, The Harvard Business Review predicted that the gig economy would disrupt the consulting industry, whereby smaller firms would “assemble leaner project teams of freelance consultants (mostly mid-level and senior alumni of top consultancies) for clients at a small fraction of the cost of traditional competitors.

The reality is that the oil and gas industry has been using contingent labour for decades, but through traditional intermediaries like recruitment agencies. The industry stands to benefit greatly from the ‘digitalisation’ of platforms to find skilled talent.

Just as Uber disrupted the traditional taxi industry, many predict that where the gig economy is going to have the most disruptive and innovative effect is where the work is more specialist in nature and executed by more experienced individuals.

Activity levels in the oil and gas industry are directly affected by changes in the oil price, meaning there is a constant requirement to ramp up and ramp down quickly, so access to a highly skilled contingent workforce ‘on demand’, is critical.

Freelance oil and gas professionals typically carry the pedigree of a distinguished career spanning several decades, across multiple specialisms and geographies. Utilising independent talent brings agility, expertise, innovative thinking and efficiency to organisations

It has been suggested, that for the gig economy to work effectively in the oil and gas industry, online platforms must be specifically tailored. Reputation and professional credibility is key in the industry, and typically prospective candidates are vetted informally, by word of mouth and personal recommendations. Therefore, for any talent platform to be accepted and utilised, such tacit vetting practices will need to be coded into the platform’s functionality.

Some freelance platforms use a combination of technology and people to initially screen talent, before they are offered as potential candidates to clients. Thereafter it’s possible that further screening is carried out, perhaps by a client-appointed third-party or representatives of the company itself. This is more likely when working with large organisations.

An alternative technique adopted by some enterprise companies looking to develop private ‘talent clouds’, is a ‘by invitation’ approach. To be considered for freelance opportunities, freelancers must first be invited, before being screened and accepted. This contributes to a sense of exclusivity and credibility, compared to platforms like LinkedIn which are uncontrolled and unverified.