Harsh Jain is the CO-Founder and CTO at UniGigs, he handles product development within the organization, he is an alumnus of IIT Delhi, where he completed both his masters and bachelors in Computer Science and Engineering. Prior to joining UniGigs, he was a Quant Researcher at Quadeye Securities (HFT). He has about 8+ years of coding experience and has in-depth industry knowledge and expertise.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic upended work and the job markets across the globe. With businesses disrupted and restrictions maximized, the roaring job market instantly came to a standstill. Organizations had to pivot to remote work overnight and several project deadlines were pushed unforeseeably as business leaders tried to navigate the quagmire. But the pandemic-induced working models and changing dynamics blurred the age-old barriers to flexible working arrangements. As work became untethered from the office, organizations began to eye the global talent market rife with freelancers and gig workers. Freelancers and contractual employees offered a new hope on the horizon to countless struggling businesses.
Many countries began to witness a sudden surge in demand for freelancers. India saw the second-most surge after the Philippines for freelancers and gig workers. According to reports, India’s freelance community is projected to grow to $20-30 billion by 2025. It is also forecasted that the online freelance marketplace could add $2.7 trillion to the global GDP by 2025. Continuing at the pace with which the freelance community is growing and adding freelancers and gig workers to the economy, these forecasts could soon be a reality. Let us understand more about India’s gig economy and the key enablers responsible for this growth trajectory.
Change in the gig economy post-pandemic
The pandemic brought to light the vulnerability and the frailty of gig workers and freelancers. The global crisis disrupted the freelancing economy. According to a 2020 survey, 90% of Indian gig workers lost their incomes. However, as business operations resumed once the lockdown and restrictions subsided, the gig economy witnessed a paradigm shift. As businesses adapted to a remote workforce, the demand for freelancers skyrocketed worldwide. Around 40% of freelancers saw higher rates post-pandemic. Given the volatile business environment, organizations are preferring to hire gig workers and contractual employees as they offer more flexibility and domain expertise.
While several sectors experienced massive unemployment, the gig economy has flourished since the pandemic. India witnessed a whopping 46% increase in new freelancers from Q1 to Q2 in 2020 as many laid-off workers and employees took to freelancing to generate higher income. India’s freelance community recorded a substantial rise of 42% in its average hourly rates from $21/hour in 2020 to $26/hour in 2022. In some sectors like finance, Indian freelancers demanded an hourly rate of $71 against a global average of $41/hour. In fact, droves of millennials are developing new skills to become a part of this burgeoning economy.
Industry & market size of the freelance gig economy
Owing to the pandemic, rapid digitization and rising demands for flexibility, the gig economy keeps on growing. The total addressable global market for the freelance economy is $1.5 trillion. Over 77 million freelancers are currently operating from Europe, India and the US, with North America accounting for over 50% of the global freelancers. Due to rapid technological transformation, the global gig economy is experiencing a huge demand for tech freelancers, with the IT industry adding several new job roles. Countries like India, the Philippines, Pakistan and Ukraine with low domestic job opportunities are witnessing a surge in freelancers. As organizations are now accustomed to remote working worldwide, they are willing to hire skilled professionals from different parts of the world.
What can India offer as a market to the global audience?
India as a job market is rife with skilled professionals and tech workers, of which the global markets are experiencing a chronic shortage. In order to meet the growing demands for skilled professionals like software developers, UI and UX designers, digital marketers and architects, many global organizations are employing freelance talent to meet their needs. India is a hotbed for skilled professionals who can cater to the burgeoning demands of the global audience. India produces a high number of science and tech graduates every year. The millennials and Gen-Z talent is highly creative and refuse to be tethered to conventional 9-5 jobs. As a result, India’s young workforce is inclining toward freelance and contractual opportunities. Possessing one of the world’s highest youngest working populations, India has the potential to become the world’s largest freelance gig economy.
Startups & the gig economy
One of the most evident reasons for the rise in India’s freelance community can be the growing number of startups in the country. India possesses the world’s third-highest number of startups and is minting unicorns at an unprecedented speed. Unconventional as they are, these startups have embraced freelancers and gig workers with open arms. Since freelancers are experts in their domains, easy to hire, and less expensive than permanent employees, they are proving to be an alternative to full-time employees. Startups worldwide are hiring Indian freelancers due to their competitive rates and easy availability. As a result, the startup culture is driving the freelance gig economy to new heights. Many Indian cities are embracing the startup culture, which is leading to a rise in coworking spaces. Coworking spaces and startups are nurturing the freelance community in India and facilitating collaborative opportunities.
Rise in platforms for freelancers
As the demand for freelancers is soaring, several supportive and purpose-driven platforms have emerged. Freelancers, companies and these platforms are creating a mutually-beneficial ecosystem where everyone’s needs are met. Freelance platforms not only help freelancers discover gigs and opportunities but also help to nurture them through online courses, consultation and specializations. These online platforms are rising to the occasion and bridging the demand-supply gap between freelancers and companies. Several organizations looking for skilled professionals are leveraging freelance platforms to find and attract the right talent. As a result, online freelance platforms are acting as catalysts to connect freelancers with companies and vice-versa.
A flexible solution for business & employees
In recent years, the mindset towards freelancing has witnessed a radical change. More and more companies are seeing freelancers as better alternatives to full-time permanent employees. While startups have embraced freelancers since the pandemic, even large and established organizations are inclining towards freelancers and gig workers to expand their geographical footprint and increase their flexibility. The lessons taught by the pandemic are empowering businesses to utilize freelance talent and farm out some of their workloads to freelancers. According to a 2019 study, Google’s workforce comprised more freelancers and contractors than permanent employees.
The freelance community is witnessing an exponential rise as scores of employees seek to escape the controlling corporate culture and 9-5 working demands. Millennials are especially favouring the autonomy to work from anywhere on projects of their own choice that don’t encroach on their work-life balance. As a result, a large majority of the workforce is willing to become freelancers so they can work on projects of their choice from anywhere in the world. The flexibility remote work offered during the pandemic has convinced these employees that flexible work arrangements are the only way forward. Having reaped the benefits of remote work during the pandemic, both employers and employees are embracing the freelance culture.
Better work-life balance, higher flexibility, lucrative earnings and better-skilled opportunities are paving the way for many professionals into the freelance community. As the influx of freelancers and gig workers to the economy keeps mounting, the freelance community will continue to rise and thrive. The freelance community in India can empower vulnerable groups like women, differently-abled, immunocompromised or those living in rural or remote areas to find suitable opportunities. Similarly, businesses can turn to freelancers, gig workers and contractors even during a recession or future crisis to ensure business operations and continuity. It can also generate myriads of employment opportunities in the country and recover the pandemic-inflicted economy. India’s freelance community will keep making strides and dominate the global gig economy in the years to come.