Digital Labour is the new zeitgeist. Soft skills and hard work are now intertwined. Digital platforms, through the application of big data, AI and cloud computing, are shifting the nature of work and economic structures. These platforms are either ‘capital platforms’ – like Airbnb that connect customers with renters (sellers) or ‘labour platforms’ like Uber, that connect clients with service providers to offer either physical services (gig work) or virtual work.
For the gig economy to deliver the foreseen transformative impact, widespread broadband infrastructure penetration is required, especially if entrepreneurs in rural communities are to have access to gig platforms and services. This ‘gig mind-set’ will birth disruptions. It will mandate a high-level, porous, multi-stakeholder governance model to script and orchestrate the emerging new order that will embrace multinationals, trade unions, civi-tech, angel finance, and startups.
COVID-19 triggered many activities in the digital gig economy. The demand for gigs and the ascension of several new forms of jobs call for the development of a comprehensive gig economy framework and the continuous review of its building blocks which remain open. Developing a Digital Culture is central to any Digital Transformation (DT) strategy. Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries must curate citizen-developers to build gig economy platforms and services. The gig culture demands a unique ‘gig mind-set’ and agile work parameters. Gig workers flock to co-working spaces where they meet likeminded individuals, exchange experiences, collaborate and build business connections. This is unlikely to happen while working remotely or freelance.
These features separate the ‘freelance economy’ – characterized by independent workers – from the platform economy. Independent workers are yet to have equal access to unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, training, credentials, access to credit lines, the protections of antidiscrimination laws, retirement security, minimum wage legislation, and they cannot be easily licensed. The gig economy requires investment in co-working spaces. These hacker-spaces make gig workers feel they belong to a bigger community of aspirants, inspire creativity, and allow gig workers to develop their gig expertise. As COVID-19 fuelled knowledge workers’ desire for flexibility, co-working spaces are likely to double in the U.S. in the next five years. It is estimated that 30% of all office space will be consumed flexibly by 2030 and that 5 million people will be working from co-working spaces by 2024, an increase of 158% compared to 2020.
LAC countries must consider four key themes when setting out the regulatory framework for the gig economy. (1) Data Protection: Consumer and provider personal data protection and ad-hoc cybersecurity schedules in consultation with consumer protection agencies and consumer safety mechanisms. (2) Fair Trade Regulations: Allowing fair market competition and the licencing of gig economy platforms. (3) Labour Policies: Enforcing social security benefits, healthcare, injured workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits, and pensions in gig economy contracts alongside the standards and guidelines of the International Labour Organization (ILO). (4) Tax: Provisions to guarantee that gig economy platforms pay taxes and VAT especially those domicile in alien jurisdictions or those that position themselves as off-shore purveyors of services.
Across all LAC countries, DT is an imperative as it will enhance transparency, offer citizens faster and more accessible services anywhere anytime, fewer opportunities for corruption, and improve public service efficiency. In a region characterized by low output, socio-economic inequality, and low trust in government, digital transformation offers a chance to advance toward the solution to many of these complications.
To identify the digital talents required to participate in digital gig labour, it is essential to first define digital skills. The European Commission established that digital competence involves the confident, critical and responsible use of, and engagement with, digital technologies for learning, at work, and for participation in society. It embraces information and data literacy, communication and collaboration skills, digital content creation (including programming), safety (including digital well-being and competencies related to cybersecurity), and problem-solving.
The UK digital skills framework has five parameters: 1) communication; 2) handling information and content; 3) transacting; 4) problem-solving and; 5) being safe and legal online. Other countries categorized digital skills into seven core and five contextual skills. Information management, communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving are core skills. Ethical mindfulness, cultural awareness, flexibility, self-direction and lifelong learning are contextual digital skills. It is important to recognise that the battery of contextual skills varies across countries. This suggests that there is a need to develop tool kits unique to the gig culture of countries and tool kits specific to industries in each economy.
On June 9th 2021, Google announced its plan to lay the Firmina subsea cable that will run from just north of Miami to Las Toninas, Argentina, with additional landings in Praia Grande, Brazil, and Punta del Este, Uruguay. It will be the longest cable in the world capable of operating entirely from a single power source at one end of the cable if its other power source(s) become provisionally unavailable—as a resilience measure when reliable connectivity is vital. This announcement came eight days after EllaLink went live with a state-of-the-art optical platform connecting Fortaleza in Brazil to Sines in Portugal. This is the first data link connecting South America to the EU. Hybrid hiring is open to gig talent anywhere.