When platform work first emerged a decade ago, it mainly took the form of small, low-skilled routine tasks which were digitally assigned to an international crowd of online workers. This alternative form of employment has since then transformed into a mega industry defined by both its potential and lack of concrete regulation. Platform work redefines across multiple policy fields: the business models of the platforms, the matching and task-assignment mechanisms, and the characteristics of tasks, workers and clients (Eurofond). The revolutionary nature of this work brought together a diverse range of policy makers in July to participate in a roundtable discussion on the outlook for gig workers in Kenya.
Gig work is understood variously but most often as work mediated by platforms which match the supply and demand for paid work. The growth in gig work has been phenomenal in Kenya, especially its urban centres, where a large number of youth have minimum basic ICT skills and access to the internet. Genesis Analytics puts the growth of the online gig marketplace at 27% annually1. This dynamism and the ever-expanding scope of gig work presents economic opportunities, as well as challenges to existing regulatory frameworks. The gig economy could contribute to more innovation, competition and economic growth; however, ensuring fair working conditions and the protection of both workers and consumers is a key challenge.
Why discuss ‘Skilling, reskilling and deskilling of gig workers’?
Research shows that many gig workers are highly educated, but nevertheless conduct low-qualified routine tasks as riders, couriers, micro-taskers etc. Skills mismatch and overqualification is thus a common consequence for those undertaking platform-mediated work. Highly skilled workers engaging over a longer term in low-skilled basic routine tasks increase the risk of deskilling the economy. From a labour market perspective this can be particularly problematic and workers may get locked in such work while they would prefer a job with more favourable working conditions in the traditional economy but cannot transition. This gap may remain despite platforms offering training to their workers for a competitive advantage. In many sectors like ride-hailing, the impact of upskilling is limited to platform specific issues whilst in other sector like cloud-work these trainings may assist to build long-term and occupational skills.
Presently, Kenya´s fast-growing digital platform economy provides essential opportunities and income for an estimated 100,000 workers. It presents solutions to a constrained labour market by driving inclusive growth and tackling youth unemployment. The intersection of an eager young workforce and low barrier to entry employment opportunities has crystallized in a large uptake by the 18–35-year-old age group, who represent 83% of digital workers in Kenya2. At the same time, digital labour platforms present/introduce new challenges for the labour market and impact employment conditions. Their labour standards may fall short of providing minimum rights and protections to workers.
GIZ policy roundtables unpack the nuances of digital labour ecosystem in Kenya
The Gig Economy initiative under the umbrella of the Digital Transformation Centre Kenya gathered notable speakers from both the public and private sector in a policy roundtable in July 2022 to analyse the skills needs and gaps of gig platform workers with a focus on online freelancers and cloudworkers. The 50 participants from business, civil society organisations and academia enjoyed a very lively and engaging discussion. Which skills are essential to excel in the gig economy? How can organisations support young people to prepare for the digital labour economy? How can Kenya´s dynamic platform economy ensure minimum standards and fairness for those employed in this sector?
Mark Schoeman from Genesis Analytics shared lessons from South African’s digital outsourcing Masterplan. In this context, he discussed Kenya´s competitive advantage in terms of digital and highlighted how the country holds the potential to become a global hub for outsourcing skills as a service. Mark noted that, “Connecting young Kenyans to offshore sources of demand for services delivered through digital technology is the game changer for generating work opportunities at scale. It is already happening, but the scale potential is enormous if the country gets this right”.
At the same time a skills mismatch and overqualification of gig workers is common in platform-mediated jobs. Jelena Sapic from Reshaping Work acknowledged the scale, urgency and complexity of needed skills and illustrated the necessity of a new skills policy at the example of developments in the EU. Among others, she proposed multi-stakeholder-dialogues to bridge the skills gap and achieve fair and decent working conditions through platforms.
Furthermore, Anne Waweru from Toolkit iSkills presented ways to utilize digital skills to accelerate the transformation of Kenya´s economy. Kenya‘s Digital Masterplan currently foresees leap-frogging economic growth by creating effective mechanisms of leveraging its skilled ICT workforce. By sharing a variety of impact stories, Toolkit I Skills demonstrated how even marginalized counties in Kenya can benefit in the long run.
Insights of the event will feed into the development of our upcoming SADA online course for policy makers on agile regulation of the gig economy and the Learning nuggets on atingi for gig workers.
Policy stakeholders can pre-register for the launch of the SADA course here.