Quality work on the fringes

Who are they?

Screen Shot 2018-07-04 at 04.39.29Irregulars are diverse, but in three broad cohorts. They skew to women, minorities, the young and lowest-skilled..


What are the demographics?

Irregularity seems to disproportionately impact people already struggling in labor markets:

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45% of gig workers need control over their schedule, only 25% are gigging because there’s no job. That suggests a high proportion of women working around family commitments. How to meaningfully segment this pool of workers? We use the reason they are working uncertain hours (rather than being unemployed or in a traditional job):


COHORT 1: Core Irregulars

If you have care-giving commitments, complex parenting needs, a fluctuating medical condition or a need to earn around changeable learning commitments you may struggle to commit to regular work hours. Each morning you could be asking: “Could I work today? I won’t know until lunchtime”.

Screen Shot 2018-07-29 at 16.05.53Availability might depend on personal issues such as; friends’ willingness to babysit, PTSD that comes and goes, whether elderly parents will be well enough for the day center or if a course module was finished. Tutors, consultants, accountants and other professionals can often fit work around these haphazard obligations. But working from home is not possible for those qualified for shop, warehouse or hospitality tasks.

Through no fault of their own, these people are often marginalised by services focused on job-creation. But so many of them badly want meaningful work at times they can be available..


COHORT 2: Forced Irregulars


Ten years ago lower-level employees in stores, hotels, warehouses, restaurants, contact centers and other locations typically had predictable hours. Now they are more likely to be scheduled exactly in line with their employer’s hour-by-hour needs. If not called in today, they likely need top-up hours elsewhere. But they have to keep themselves available tomorrow in case the primary employer needs them. If they don’t, shifts could dry up.

Someone who shows in the statistics as having a job may, in reality, just be doing gig work in a monopsony; a market with only one buyer. They then fill-in other bits of work around that. Even someone with 40+ hours a week may need side-hustles to maintain living standards.

Likewise; a job-seeker may be be scraping together odd hours of work around their interviews and applications. Across the labor market, irregular employment is plugging income gaps as wage growth slows..


COHORT 3: Voluntary Irregulars

It’s easy to assume ad hoc work will inevitably be destabilizing, belittling and devoid of career progression. But it’s a deliberately dismal view. At it’s best, working on your own terms for a portfolio of organizations or individuals can deliver networks, opportunities and a skills mix unthinkable for those who hitch themselves to one institution. Some people prefer it.

Middx GraphsA 2007 independent survey for British government took a weighted sample of 1,000 Londoners who could do irregular blue-collar work. In face-to-face interviews they were introduced to a world where they set their daily hours and terms on which they would work. Then they were booked for all sorts of work.

The need for reliability was explained. This is the key attribute of an unskilled or semi-skilled irregular worker: do they do what they say they will?

Traditional thinking says this group would want the security, predictability and possibilities for promotion of being an employee for a very flexible organization. For 68% that wasn’t the case. This research suggests a sizeable section of any mass labor market want the opportunity to manage their work their way. They will accept the need to perform responsibly in return.

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Some experience of non-standard work could be key to employability in competitive labor markets.

Politicians are under justified pressure to stop employers’ using workers as an on-call resource. But there are people who believe they can improve life chances by doing their own thing outside a traditional employee relationship.


→ What’s their problem?