The Digital Economy is changing the notion of work as we know it

By Susan Omamo at Liquid Intelligent Technologies

Digital transformation is having a deep and intense impact on all areas of our lives. It also presents a rare opportunity to fundamentally improve work and the nature of employment. 

The concept of gig work is being readily accepted by millennials, who are openly embracing the idea of career flexibility to acquire wide-ranging skills and exposure to various roles, without being tied down to one life-long profession. In Kenya, as per a Mercy Corps 2019 report, the online and offline gig economy as at 2019 accounted for $19.7 billion employing 5.13 million workers. 

Research by Gartner reveals that gig or contingent workers represent approximately 15-25% of the global workforce today. By 2025, gig workers are expected to account for 35-40% of the workforce. In Kenya, the online gig economy is expected to grow to $345 million by 2023 while the offline will reach $28.95 billion by 2023.  

Even though change is always for the best yet digital transformation has its fair share of critics. Sometimes it’s been met with fear and trepidation, especially among those who believe that technological advancement will eliminate jobs. But, instead of dreading the inevitable, people should rather embrace digital transformation, and upskill to take advantage of the next wave of opportunities. 

Career flexibility

In Kenya, there is no denying that technology and connectivity are driving economic growth. This has led to creation of opportunities for us to do new, innovative and interesting things. Essentially, a gig-based economy is centred on the notion that we all have multiple interests and skills that can be leveraged in different ways. 

Within our economic context, more than 80% of the population in Kenya is employed in the informal sector. The country’s official unemployment rate in 2019 stood at 9.31% in 2019. Gig work is gradually changing the nature of how Kenya’s workforce accesses jobs, and is gradually shifting the access of work opportunities from informal to digital platforms hence offering new revenue streams, creating more stability and formalizing work conditions.

Access to reliable internet is fundamental

Connectivity is the bedrock for surviving and thriving in a gig economy. Affordable smartphones and lowering of data charges have completely changed the way we connect to the internet. Connectivity has changed the dynamics of how often we go on the internet to interact and create content. It has also amplified remote working strategies, proving that work does not need to be done from a fixed location. Our current circumstances of social distancing and staying at home due to COVID-19 has made remote working a new normal and also proved that employees do not need to be behind their office desks to be productive.

Anyone with a smart device can really do anything from anywhere but the real gains come in when one embraces and turns it into productivity. The ability to balance a life and a career is becoming more important to people, and, to a large extent, technology is enabling that.

Crucially, connectivity also facilitates learning, as it provides access to global information resources that can easily be used to acquire new skills and knowledge. In Kenya, with school and universities temporarily closed, internet is facilitating continuation of learning. Students and teachers are able to collaborate and interact virtually, meaning that minimal disruption is experienced by technology enabled institutions and learners. Without a shadow of a doubt technology is having a profound effect on learning and education through virtual learning platforms and tools.
But the importance of connectivity extends beyond the individual. Connected communities have access to a marketplace for their goods and skills, and can become the true drivers of economic growth. We can only hope that the private sector, along with government, continue to work towards connecting the country and the continent, which will stimulate economic growth at various levels.

Change brings opportunity. It is up to every individual and company to embrace this change and take advantage of the opportunities that come their way. Digital transformation forces us to think and act in new ways, particularly in terms of how we approach work – there is no need to fear it.

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