The world of work is experiencing a revolution. How far will the gig economy go?
A century back, you expected a job for life. Provided you accepted it could take decades to inherit your manager’s job, you could, in the words of poet Louis MacNeice, “Sit on your arse for fifty years and hang your hat on a pension.”

Secure? Yes. But stiflingly dull. Listen to archive recordings of the men who joined up to fight in the 1914-18 war and it’s striking how many joined for a bit of fun and to get away from their boring jobs (Peter Jackson’s new film, ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’, is an eye-opener).

More recently, America’s Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that on average, we’ll get through ten jobs by the time we’re forty. But even that is beginning to look conservative.

New types of business and new ways of working have brought us the gig economy. It sounds cool, like we’re all musicians being paid by the gig. Advantages include being able to make your own schedule, and the ability to fit working around family, study or travel.

Amazon Flex – home-based delivery workers pick up blocks of jobs via an app – have joined other pioneers like Uber, Deliveroo, TaskRabbit and Handy in offering ‘gig economy’ work. In each case the worker is no longer an employee but is working for themselves (that status has seen legal challenges in some countries).

Meanwhile some high street retailers are now employing sales staff on zero hours contracts, effectively hiring them for the ‘gig’ when demand requires.

These lower end, lower-skilled gig jobs suit the young, the fancy free and students. They’re less ideal for those with families to support or mortgages to pay. These are the jobs that will be the first to go when AI gives us driverless cars and vans. It’s a precarious living.

It’s the biggest single change to humankind since the Industrial Revolution

On the upside, gig work gives the individual greater flexibility and the ability to decide their own work-life balance. Downsides include having no employment rights, no sick pay, no redress and a fluctuating income. One comment on the website Glassdoor noted, “They treat delivery drivers as self-employed only to avoid government taxes and to terminate contact whenever they want.” But many love being their own boss.

Could the gig economy spread further up the food chain? Perhaps it already has. Creative industries have long depended on the freelance, which is just a fancy term for a gig worker. The CEO level has its non-executive directors, who can bring their expertise to the boards of multiple companies. Aren’t they gig workers too?

The internet is the enabler and the disrupter. It allows the designer to work from her home desk and Uber to create a worldwide network of drivers without owning a single cab. It’s the biggest single change to humankind since the Industrial Revolution and we’re right in the middle of a mighty shakeup. Interesting times. How’s your job going, by the way?