Today's Gig Economy Treats Workers as Expendable Cogs in the Machine, but That's About to Change

The next generation of freelancers will have careers, not just gigs.
Today's Gig Economy Treats Workers as Expendable Cogs in the Machine, but That's About to Change
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Over half of non-independent workers say they expect to join the gig economy over the next five years, according to a PwC survey. Despite the gig economy’s growing importance, it’s hard to talk about the rise of freelance on professional networks or apps without hearing a strong opinion, positive or negative. We’re talking about people’s livelihoods, a naturally emotional topic. But, more often than not, my conversations about the gig economy don’t reflect the reality of what it has become: not only a place for skilled professionals to make a living but more importantly the launch pad of their careers and professional growth.

What I call “gig economy 1.0” popped up about a decade ago and has exploded across the U.S. (and the world). These jobs, like becoming an Uber driver or a freelance photographer on Thumbtack, offered a low barrier to entry and fast matching between buyers and service providers, but little in the way of job security or long-term development. Consider this: Uber’s annual driver turnover rate is 50 percent. If half of your employees quit every year, there’s plenty of room to improve the employee experience.

Related: Every Entrepreneur Gains From Nurturing the High-Skilled Gig Economy

One of my first jobs after college was as a software tester for a crowd testing company stuck in the “1.0” gig economy model. It didn’t respect testers’ time and focused on the number of bugs you could find in a given period, not the value you delivered to developers. In fact, the adversity and frustration I felt about how it treated testers inspired me to co-found Testlio with my husband, Marko, and continues to guide our focus on giving the members of our community everything they need to do their best work. So, what does gig economy 2.0 look like? Based on my experience growing Testlio’s expert testing community, things are about to get better for employees themselves, not just the companies they serve.

Raising the quality bar

The gig economy has always been about receiving a service, but it needs to be about receiving a quality service. Testlio is more selective about the testers it chooses than Harvard is about its applicants -- less than 4 percent of testers who apply are chosen. By only working with the best talent around the world, we are able to get the best customers, who allow us to pay freelancers a living wage. It’s not about creating exclusivity or making it harder to profit from specialized skills; we simply want to deliver the most valuable service to our customers as we can.

Related: What You Really Earn on Uber, Airbnb and Taskrabbit Every Month

One way companies can do this by testing potential contractors before and as they onboard. This makes it easy to weed out talent that may not be a fit and match assignments to various experience levels and backgrounds. We invite potential testers to explore a real application for high-priority bugs before they join our community. By vetting testers and raising the quality bar, we’re able to pay testers a meaningful wage while they develop their skills.

Recruiting for experience

While one of the biggest benefits of the gig economy is how easy it is to join without experience, this is also one of its drawbacks. Experience isn’t necessary to do a job well, but it does tend to signal your passion or interest in the field you’re in. Future companies will screen out those without experience. One reason we’re able to offer high-value QA to our customers is that we’re constantly looking for passionate and experienced testers, not simply people with smartphones capable of following instructions. Our recruitment strategy is reflected in our community signups: Over 50 percent of our community members have one-plus years of previous QA experience, and over 25 percent have more than five years of experience. These professionals aren’t just looking to make an extra buck; they’re using QA to grow into new roles and careers. We find that employees with more experience turn over less than those brand new to testing, a better business decision for all.

Related: Employers Are Paying Freelancers Big Bucks for These In-Demand Skills

Investing in your talent

A lot of gig economy founders haven’t actually worked freelance jobs themselves. Because I started my career as a tester, my whole approach to community growth has been to put testers’ needs first. We pay testers on the time they spend, not the number of bugs they report since this can be gamed and misleading. While we still enable our testers to work on their own schedule, our community relationships are anything but transactional. Testing changed the course of my career, so I know how starting out as a tester can lead down a number of paths, whether it’s becoming a QA lead, QA manager or even a product or project lead. I certainly didn’t think testing would be my path to entrepreneurship when I started out.

When you stop thinking about gig economy workers as arms and legs and start treating them like people with aspirations and dreams, you’ll be amazed at what they’ll deliver for you. It’s for all these reasons that we provide training opportunities for testers that allow them to invest and grow their skills over time. We’re also proud to have paid millions to testers since founding Testlio.

Right now we’re in a trough between gig economy 1.0 and 2.0. The gig economy as we know it hasn’t always been fair to freelancers, but that’s changing. As companies hone in on specialized talent, strategize around recruiting for relevant experience and actually invest in their talent, we’ll see the gig economy evolve into an opportunity for skilled workers to make a real living -- not a stopgap between other jobs.

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