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Grey-haired professionals: The next wave of the Gig Economy

There has been so much written about the Gig Economy (a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs) over the last few years, but most of it related to young people and Uber Eats drivers.

What I am starting to see is a massive rise in, shall we say, older gig workers. Never a week goes by where we don’t hear about a massive household brand name shedding workers. With the rise of AI, workflow and robotics, these layoffs are starting to really affect older, more expensive professional workers.

This trend has some negative effects on society as a whole, here are a few:

  • These workers tend to be in the critical earning years of their career where they are supporting themselves, children and many times parents that are living longer. Coming out of steady work at this age adds pressure on the entire family unit.​

  • Loss of ‘corporate wisdom’ in organisations. Although many people complain that grey-haired workers are ‘too negative’, are always saying ‘we tried that before and it did not work’ there is a level of wisdom that is hard to replace in companies.​

  • Traditional financial models used to evaluate people for financing tend to favour stable income when assessing a person’s creditworthiness. Those without that steady income might have limited borrowing capability and thus reduce the overall investment in the economy.​

  • The strain of switching from a permanent steady role to a freelancer can be an extremely traumatising experience. For those not prepared or ill-equipped to deal with this change, there may be painful periods that cause real strains on mental health as well as relationships. In extreme cases, this could lead to suicides.

While these trends are obviously VERY troubling and need to be addressed, there are some opportunities coming from the influx of highly qualified professionals into the freelance space. Some of these include:

  • High-quality experts that could be available now for smaller companies on a part-time basis as advisors, board members and even part-time contractors. These experts can bring a much higher level of thinking as firms grow. Think about the need for building a proper risk framework and having an expert from banking join you for a short time.

  • Gives corporate clients an entirely new stream of consultants that they can use as and when needed. In the past to get highly qualified consultancy one had to look to the bigger consulting firms where now you can really fine-tune your needs by getting exactly who you need at only the time you need them.

  • Potential for the rise of new sectors of services targeted at the professional freelancer. These include technologies to get them going quickly (cloud accounting, CRM, project management tools of which there are many), professional services (accounting, legal, IT) and flexible workspace programmes. Although the shine may have come off the WeWork brand lately, there is no doubt that flexible working spaces will be on the rise.

  • Pressure for more innovation to support the new Gig/sharing economy. It is one thing to have a few young folks clamouring about the unfairness of the treatment of flexible workers but when you have breadwinners and heads of the family asking for better products and services, innovation can accelerate.

Lastly, for those that are either forcefully or voluntarily finding themselves in the freelance situation, there is hope. Normally after an initial period of ‘good riddance’ to the old job, there is a panic stage. This is normal and I always suggest to people a few things:

  • Seek out people who may have been on this journey ahead of you and buy them a coffee, they often can give you invaluable tips and tricks on how to cope, where and how to network, what tools to use and give you introductions to potential clients.

  • Do a detailed review of the accomplishments of your career. This has a twofold effect in that it generally cheers you up as you have done many more things then you can remember and helps identify your ‘secret sauce’. Firms will employ you for your wisdom, make sure that you have credibility in this space that can be backed up.

  • Get your story straight, find the interaction of a) what you would like to work on, b) where you have true expertise and c) there is a known problem in the market where these two circles cross. Once it is clear, be able to say this in plain simple English in under 2 mins to anyone you meet.

  • Lastly, people need to engage your network. Telling their story to as many people as possible is critical to help refine the messaging, create possible connections to work and boost your confidence.

We think of 20-year-old whipping down the street on the bike delivering food as the new norm for many young people, but I would argue that we all need to learn the skills of the flexible worker (maybe not the bike riding) to ensure a smoother transition to the next era of work.

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