Research that makes a difference
Has gig work the potential to develop your professional skills?
Professor Anoush Margaryan from the Department of Digitalization studies human self-regulatory learning behaviour.
What inspired you to do this specific research?
Online gig-work is an emergent form of work, in which people from across the world buy and sell skills through platforms. The online gig-tasks are designed to be completed autonomously, and the complex interdependencies that are part and parcel of organisation-based jobs are deliberately designed out of online gigs. Unlike in organisation-based jobs, in these new cloud workplaces workers do not have access to training, mentoring, or structural opportunities to collaborate and share knowledge with peers.
Policymakers, the media and some researchers tend to assume that because these platforms do not provide training and because the tasks are autonomous and sometimes repetitive, online gig work must therefore be deskilling and devoid of opportunities to acquire and hone skills and develop professionally. I sought to find out whether or not this assumption was empirically true.
What are the conclusions of your research?
We collected data from platform workers, owners and clients, policymakers, trade unions and learning providers from five platforms in six European countries (2,200 questionnaires and 100 interviews) to understand what skills workers developed in their online work; what self-initiated learning activities and strategies they used; what were their motives to undertake online gig-work; and how they viewed their work in the context of their wider life, career trajectory and aspirations.
We reached three main conclusions:
First, we found that despite lack of access to direct learning support, the majority of online gig-workers nevertheless undertake a considerable amount of self-initiated learning activities. For example, they regularly read up on new developments in their field; study online tutorials to improve their skills; set learning and performance goals and self-monitor their progress. Social learning still occurs in online gig workplaces, many workers reporting that they regularly reach out to others in their networks to share knowledge and learn.
Second, workers develop over 200 distinct core, transversal and platform-specific skills through their daily gig-work.
Third, although the platforms do not provide direct training, some platforms support workers’ learning indirectly, for example by regularly publishing on-demand skills, recommending external training courses, making available online discussion fora for workers, and providing skill matching advice and micro-certification.
How are the findings relevant to the wider society?
The first of its kind internationally, this research uncovered trends and challenges for skill development in online gig platforms, contributing the evidence base to inform our societal discourse and policy initiatives around new forms of digital work and the learning potential of this work.
The global uptake of online gig-platforms has been steadily increasing, with online work becoming an important source of income both in developing and developed countries. The predictions are that online gig-work is here to stay and in future will most likely co-exist with organisational jobs in different eco-systemic configurations. Therefore, to support our transition to future of work, it is important to understand the learning potential of online gig work and the capabilities that make one successful in this type of work.
Read more about Professor Anoush Margaryan here
More information about the research findings is available from the reports below:
- Developing and matching skills in the online platform economy
- Skill development in the platform economy: Comparing microwork and online freelancing