Can the Sharing Economy Provide Good Jobs? Opinions Are Sharply Divided

Botsman, RachelSome see benefits for many kinds of workers, others see a raw deal for most. In an article for The Wall Street Journal, Rachel Botsman explains how and why different kinds of workers derive different benefits in the new workplace. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

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Startups like Uber, TaskRabbit, and Handy are transforming the way consumers access goods and services by matching people who need something — a driver, a housecleaner or a handyman, for example — with providers willing to supply it.

It’s called the sharing economy, and some 7% of U.S. adults say they are working on sharing platforms, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, with many more likely to follow, attracted by the idea of a job with flexible hours and the chance to be their own boss.

But is there a downside to these kind of work arrangements? Critics worry that sharing platforms may seduce underemployed and economically weak people into jobs with no benefits and few protections. Others say sharing-economy jobs provide different types of workers with something they value more than benefits: flexibility and autonomy.

Rachel Botsman, currently teaching an M.B.A. course on the collaborative economy at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, says the sharing economy is transforming the labor market to the benefit of millions of workers. Andrew Keen, executive director of the Silicon Valley innovation salon Futurecast, says workers in the sharing economy are being shortchanged.

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The sharing economy is empowering millions of people to unlock the value of their time, skills and talents to make money in ways and on a scale never possible before. It is providing good jobs, but not in the way “good jobs” are traditionally defined.

A green shoot in a postindustrial age where technology is pulling us away from centralized, hierarchal institutions, the sharing economy is changing the way we create and access goods and services. The result is transformed labor coordination whereby ”needs” can be directly matched with provider “haves,” bypassing the traditional middlemen.

This transformation is impacting all levels of labor and workers of all ages. From drivers and housecleaners to attorneys making $100,000 a year, the “micropreneurs” working on sharing platforms fall into four groups, each of which derives specific benefits from this new economy.

First are the “flexers,” the stay-at-home parents, retirees, students, people with disabilities and others for whom the conventional demands of nine-to-five jobs aren’t an option. The flexibility and autonomy offered by the sharing economy allow this group to be in the workforce.

Next are those who can’t find a traditional job in a tough market. The sharing economy isn’t the complete answer to unemployment, but it can be a savior for many by providing an indispensable way to generate some independent income.

The third group, the “pros,” has made a full-time job from one or more sharing platforms. By providing brand, marketing, support and distribution services, sharing platforms have enabled these independent professionals to expand their businesses in ways that weren’t possible before.

Perhaps the most interesting category of providers is people with traditional full-time jobs seeking to earn extra income. I recently met an Airbnb host who had used the money she was making renting out two spare bedrooms to kick-start her textiles business on Etsy. Turned down by a bank for a starter loan, this was the only way for her to fund her passion. She isn’t alone. Economic impact studies by Airbnb found that more than 10,000 of its hosts have used rental income to support themselves while launching a business. The sharing economy is enabling individuals to take entrepreneurial risks they wouldn’t have taken otherwise, the effects of which aren’t yet known.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Rachel Botsman is the global authority on the power of collaboration and sharing to change the way we live, work, bank and consume. She is regarded as one of the most insightful and creative thinkers on this socioeconomic revolution and has been compared with Malcolm Gladwell for identifying an idea and catapulting it into popular consciousness. Her book, What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, was published by HarperBusiness (2010). To learn more about Rachel and her work, please click here.

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