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Future of work in the post COVID-19 pandemic world

The main purpose of education is to equip people with the skills to earn a job thus providing a good living. The UN Sustainable Development Goal no. 4.4 focuses on this in particular.

April 29, 2020

Dr. Kirill Pyshkin

Senior Portfolio Manager, Credit Suisse Asset Management Thematic Equities

Hybrid working is here to stay¹

Alain Dehaze, CEO of Adecco Group 

In our previous Edutainment thematic insight we wrote about shorter courses offered by the companies in our investable universe that cut down the time from “learning to earning”. Today we are writing about companies that help to bridge the gap between skills possessed by people and jobs offered by recruiters. In other words, we are addressing a particular pain point that comes up in corporate surveys repeatedly – “skills gap”. The term simply describes the skills lacking from a company’s current talent pool to reach a certain goal, and in a recent McKinsey survey, 87% of the global respondents said that they are experiencing “skills gaps” now or expect them within a few years2.

A major factor certainly are the costs related to education. We are well aware of the dire situation with student loans in the U.S., though high tuition costs only partly account for high student debt globally. In tuition-free Sweden, for example, students borrow money as frequently as Americans do – about 70% have student loans – and graduate with around $20 thousand in debt3. Purely covering living costs while studying makes the argument for more concise degrees and online-based education. The situation is disproportionally worse in emerging economies, and especially in the developing parts of those countries. In China, a farmer from a rural area has to work 14 years to fund tuition at a Chinese university, while those in wealthier urban areas pay the equivalent of about four years of an individual’s annual income, which is still prohibitively expensive3.

Flexible employment options could allow people to start earning while pursuing an education, helping recoup that initial investment. This is particularly important as students getting older often juggling family and a part-time job. The skills that are short in supply are technical in nature – data analytics (43% of respondents) and IT/mobile/web design (26%)2. Enabled by remote delivery of these tasks, organizations have been turning to utilizing more contract and freelance workers, addressing the skills gaps and contributing to the larger “gig economy”.

From gaps to gigs

“Gig”, short for "engagement", was originally coined in the 1920s by jazz musicians to describe any musical performance4, and, by the nature of their work, it was usually a one-time engagement. Like the jazz musicians, modern gig economy participants do not have long-term commitments; they work on self-define schedules, perform tasks and move on.

Perhaps many instinctively think of Uber, Etsy and Deliveroo when mentioning gigs (or simply someone posting a note on a board in the local grocery store, offering services such as help with moving furniture). However, data from BCG shows that a large part of gig economy participants work in skilled technical and personal service jobs5, in some countries outnumbering the lower-skill workers. For example in India, high-skill freelancers represent 42% of total vs 31% in low skilled work6. It is likely that the highly skilled freelancers contribute the majority of the estimated $297 billion volume of gig economy globally, a number that is growing in double-digits annually7.

As the jazz musicians of the 1920s we see the new breed of hybrid roles at the forefront of the gig economy. Such roles combine the well sought after technical expertise with a combination of high demand skills like critical thinking, leadership, problem-solving, and collaboration. They are data-enabled jobs but also, in a way, more human – that is, more dependent on judgment and creativity. They rarely involve rote, repetitive tasks which is why they are well-liked by everyone, and especially the younger generations.

Column 1 Digital security: With increasing complexity and ever more multi-disciplinary, it is no longer enough for digital security analysts to rely on technical knowledge to do their jobs. Data analysis, interpretation, business acumen and communication skills are required from analysts to effectively asses threats and convince management and staff to adopt the best practice protocols. Column 2 Graphic design: To create meaningful designs, graphic designers are increasingly required to have coding skills in addition to artistic talent. Profound technical skills are not only needed to effectively use digital design systems and tools but also while supporting key functions such as digital marketing they require digital campaign and data knowledge. Column 3 Technical recruiting: Human resources and recruiting is developing into a more technology-based work. A recruiter with traditionally strong communication and interpersonal skills is now also required to be skilled in a relevant technical field he/she acts in. With increasing automation of recruiting processes and HR tech becoming mainstream, knowledge in data analysis and HR systems is crucial.

Examples of hybrid roles

Sources: Credit Suisse, based on GetSmarter, a 2U, Inc. Brand (2020) : The Future of Work Is Here, p.27,

COVID-19 as a major catalyst

COVID-19 will likely fuel the shift to gig/freelance economy further. According to Prof Nick Bloom from Stanford if up until mid-last year 85% of us never worked from home, now estimated 30-40% globally do on regular basis (the number, of course, shifts heavily in periods from full lockdown to easing restrictions)8. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 5% of paid working days were work-from-home (WHF) days. By May 2020, that number jumped to over 60%. Share of days WFH increases with education level, hovering around 10.5% for those with less than a high school degree and 53% for those with a graduate degree. Hybrid and in some positions fully remote work arrangements are not the future, but the present. This push has made it significantly easier from both technological and cultural perspective to involve freelance talent in daily operations, as we are all communicating and collaborating on the same plane, with digital deliveries of tasks.

The shift has been particularly prevalent in IT services. Hiring in freelance space suffered a decline mid-last year following the initial shock, together with the general staffing market, yet it also saw an extremely rapid recovery. All the while IT demand remained robust throughout9.

So who is buying these skilled services, who is selling them and how? Growing demand for freelance work has been evident for several years. Embraced by estimated 70% of small and medium businesses in U.S. in 2018, these companies chiefly used freelancers to access specific experience and skills10. Same year 57% of Swiss organizations, surveyed by Deloitte, were looking to expand their freelance work outsourcing11, and evidence from India suggests that large corporates and professional service companies are starting to utilize more freelancers – something that was more characteristic of startups just a few years ago12. Large tech companies like Cisco, Microsoft and Google are ahead of the trend, with freelancers and contractors comprising 54% of Google’s workforce13. According to Harvard Business Review’s survey, 90% of business leaders believe these platforms will be core to their ability to compete in the future14.

On the supply side, in developed markets being a freelancer is predominantly a lifestyle choice (about 70%), and people enjoy making extra money, as well as the autonomy15. Freelancing in highly-skilled fields certainly seems to be the future choice, as only 1.1% of IT freelancers in Germany would prefer a fixed arrangement, and only further 22% might be persuaded by a salary increase16. In emerging markets, freelancing is an opportunity, with the global freelancer demographic being young17 and essentially exporting their skills as a service to North America and Europe18;19.

Column 1 Traditional workplace: long term employment, work from the office, local teams, work offline, work full time receives monthly salary, study young, standard profession, stability. Column 2 Future of work: Experience building and freelancing, work from anywhere (nomads, co-working), global and remote teams, work digitally, leveraging collaboration tools, get for action and results, contiunous study, gain unique expertise, fulfillment.

Differences in traditional and freelance/hybrid-based workplaces

Sources: Credit Suisse based on Fiverr investor presentation, p. 8

According to a recent survey on Future of Work from 2U: “Gone are the days where we could pinpoint a dream career, plan out the course to get there, and wind up exactly where we anticipated. Just 10 years from now, the working life of most people will likely include a range of jobs, including self-employment, engagement in the collaborative economy, and working with other individual employers. The emergence of hybrid jobs also means that the nature of specific careers could be upended in the not too distant future.”20

Skills gaps and the freelance economy together with affordable and accessible online-based education, have opened up this avenue for people to learn relevant, in-demand skills and apply them in a much more streamlined value chain. For instance, 20 of the most in-demand skills on the freelance market are facilitated by online courses from innovative providers like Pluralsight, Udemy, edX and Coursera21. Bringing the gig economy online also gives transparency and to the participants more certainty that their skill will be in-demand and rewarded fairly. The premise of transparent, efficient and open recruiting and staffing practices contributes not only to the sustainable development goal of “quality education” but also links into combating poverty, striving for gender equality, and fostering decent work and economic growth.

Talent marketplaces

Let us turn to the companies leading the charge in the freelance economy. Upwork and Fiverr both operate online talent marketplaces, focusing on digital-only delivery and capitalizing heavily on the largest skills gaps/most-demanded services, chiefly in technology. These are not staffing companies with an online job market, however. Apart from completely remote delivery, the core operating model of these firms is to enable continuous learning and building experience through freelancing, rather than taking a previously acquired skill and utilizing it at a role.

As freelancing both expands in online presence, both companies are at the infancy of serving a large and diverse total addressable market. Upwork is targeting 161 million service jobs that can be provided remotely, a total global opportunity of $560 billion22, while Fiverr is focused on a $115 billion segment of the massive $815 billion U.S. self-employed market23.

To capture that opportunity, Fiverr is using an e-commerce approach to freelancing. There is no hiring process or long-term commitment (everything is on-demand), and services are purchased from a comprehensive catalog. Compared to staffing companies, Fiverr is transparent with pricing and timing of services, and this has resulted in the company attracting 3.1 million active buyers to their platform24.

Upwork’s business model is geared towards larger corporate customers, with over 30% of the Fortune 100 part of their clientele25. This enables the company to upsell more profitable “Managed Services”, which goes a step above providing a platform to hire freelancers and take a small commission. Upwork, themselves act as a manager on behalf of their client, taking responsibility for project deliverables and engaging the freelancers as necessary. Upwork is clearly benefiting from both the secular trend of freelancing and network effects. The company has acquired 80% of its customers without advertising - through unpaid search, free referrals and word of mouth, showing the organic interest in the service.

A key ingredient to the process at both Upwork and Fiverr is the skill matching, which, compared to a traditional HR process, happens much quicker. Since the platforms are transparent, they allow the sellers to address gaps in their skillset, learn through work experience with a more diverse clientele than normally accessible and build their portfolios. Fiverr and Upwork’s models also remained robust in the adversity of COVID-19 pandemic, and were fully able to facilitate selling digital services. With uncertainty lingering in the air, many companies could still acquire relevant skills without the need to make a long-term commitment. With this backdrop, Upwork managed a 24% revenue growth26 in 2020, while Fiverr posted incredible 88%24. As corporate and societal structures shift to more hybrid of fully remote working models even within companies, both companies were able to grow a customer base that is more prepared and willing to manage flexible work and receive services purely online.

Conclusion

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The securities mentioned on this page are meant for illustration purposes only and are not intended as a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell these securities.
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Sources

1 “CEO Voice: People First. 5 Trends That Will Shape 2021”, Alain Dehaze, CEO of the Adecco Group, 17 December 2020 https://www.adeccogroup.com/future-of-work/latest-insights/ceo-voice-people-first-5-trends-that-will-shape-2021/, accessed on February 12, 2020
2 https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/beyond-hiring-how-companies-are-reskilling-to-address-talent-gaps, accessed on February 4, 2020
3 https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/student-debt-rising-worldwide, accessed on February 5, 2020
4 Partridge, Eric; Dalzell, Tom; Victor, Terry (2007). The concise new Partridge dictionary of slang and unconventional English. Psychology Press. p. 288
5 https://www.bcg.com/publications/2019/new-freelancers-tapping-talent-gig-economy, accessed on February 4, 2020
6 https://www.bcg.com/publications/2019/new-freelancers-tapping-talent-gig-economy, accessed on February 4, 2020
7 https://newsroom.mastercard.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Gig-Economy-White-Paper-May-2019.pdf, accessed on February 4, 2020
8 https://bcf.princeton.edu/events/nick-bloom-working-from-home-will-it-persist/, accessed on February 4, 2020
9 https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/vmg34, accessed on February 4, 2020
10 https://www.linkedin.com/profinder/blog/how-small-businesses-are-leveraging-freelancers, accessed on February 4, 2020
11 https://www2.deloitte.com/ch/en/pages/press-releases/articles/human-capital-trends-swiss-perspective-press-2018.html, accessed on February 4, 2020
12 https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/company/corporate-trends/gig-projects-taking-over-corporates-and-professional-services-firms/articleshow/70651920.cms?from=mdr, accessed on February 4, 2020
13 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-07-25/inside-google-s-shadow-workforce, accessed on February 5, 2020
14 https://hbr.org/2020/11/rethinking-the-on-demand-workforce, accessed on February 5, 2020
15 https://voxeu.org/article/exploding-myths-about-gig-economy, accessed on February 5, 2020
16 https://www.freelancermap.com/blog/freelance-market-study-germany/, accessed on February 5, 2020
17 https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/07/the-10-countries-with-the-fastest-growing-earnings-for-freelancers.html, accessed on February 5, 2020
18 https://ilabour.oii.ox.ac.uk/where-are-online-workers-located-the-international-division-of-digital-gig-work/, accessed on February 5, 2020
19 https://ilabour.oii.ox.ac.uk/which-countries-and-occupations-are-embracing-the-online-gig-economy-ask-the-online-labour-index/, accessed on February 5, 2020
20 https://www.getsmarter.com/blog/future-of-work/, p. 8, accessed on February 5, 2020
21 https://www.upwork.com/resources/learn-most-in-demand-skills, accessed on February 5, 2020
22 Fiverr company presentation, p.9 https://s23.q4cdn.com/749308338/files/doc_presentations/2020/10/FVRR-Company-Presentation-October-2020.pdf, accessed on February 5, 2020
23 Upwork company presentation, https://investors.upwork.com/events-and-presentations/, accessed on February 5, 2020
24 https://investors.fiverr.com/press-releases/press-releases-details/2020/Fiverr-Announces-Third-Quarter-2020-Results/default.aspx, accessed on February 5, 2020
25 https://www.adeccogroup.com/research-block/reset-normal/, accessed on February 12, 2020
26 https://investors.upwork.com/news-releases/news-release-details/upwork-reports-third-quarter-2020-financial-results, accessed on February 5, 2020

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