There are three broad cohorts of Irregular Worker.
1) Core Irregulars
In 2005, 13.7m people in the UK – 22% of our population – needed Irregular Work if they were to work at all. Research for the UK government by Accenture counted those who wanted work but couldn’t take a job, full or part time, even if offered.
Reasons were diverse:
- individuals limited by family obligations (17%)
- availability inhibited by on-going medical issues (8%)
- students with varying study commitments (8%)
- people who lost confidence in their ability to find or do a job and detached from employment, but likely to do odd hours of work (7%)
- the self-employed with insufficient hours (6%).
The biggest group (38%) were economically active but declining a conventional job with no specific reason known.
There is a cohort in any labor market who wake each morning thinking, for example: “can I work today? I won’t know until lunchtime”. Availability depends on personal issues such as; friends’ willingness to babysit, back pain that comes and goes, whether elderly parents will be well enough for the day center or if a course module was finished. Professionals can often fit work around these haphazard obligations. But working from home is not possible for a youngster qualified only for shop, gardening or catering tasks.
2) Forced Irregulars
Partial employment, or a need for extra hours, accounts for some of the numbers above. In April 2015, 17% of employed Americans were scheduled irregularly, they need top-up hours when there are no shifts. People who can’t get even a precarious job grasp odd hours of work where they can.
Someone who shows in the statistics as having a job may, in reality, just be lurching from one uncertain week to another. A regular employee may need to moonlight. An apparently single-minded job-seeker may be also be scraping together odd hours of work to survive. In each case: Easy access to additional employment can plug gaps in income and aspirations.
3) Voluntary Irregulars
It’s easy to assume ad hoc work will inevitably be inferior, 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 and individuals can deliver a skillsmix, networks and opportunities unthinkable for those hitched to one institution. Some people prefer it.
A 2007 independent survey for British government took a weighted sample of 1,000 Londoners needing 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.
Irregular Work experience is likely to be key to employability in increasingly competitive labor markets.
Politicians are under justified pressure to stop employers’ using workers as an on-call resource. But we should remember: There are plenty of people who believe they can improve life chances by doing their own thing outside a traditional employee relationship.