|
Small theatre

Skill Specialisation Patterns in the Online Gig Economy: Complement or Substitute to National Labour Markets?

Skill Specialisation Patterns in the Online Gig Economy: Complement or Substitute to National Labour Markets?

 
Jaap van Slageren, Utrecht University
Andrea M. Herrmann, Utrecht University
 

Extended Abstract

The gig economy, which we define as freelancers who provide paid services in the form of ex-ante assigned tasks mediated by online platforms, is often perceived as an opportunity for workers. Given that gig jobs can be accessed without needing any specific kind of ‘entry certificate’ (such as an educational degree), platforms allow marginalized groups to enter the labour market easily, promptly, and without costs. This is particularly true for the online gig economy, where labour is completely transferable online, which enables workers around the world to access and complete online gigs. No longer confined by the boundaries of local or national labour markets, the online gig economy seems to constitute a global labour market, where workers around the globe compete – evaluated according to their merits, skills and productivity.
But is there indeed global competition within the online gig economy? The labour-economic as well as the industrial relations literature teaches us that workers compete in distinct skill segments (e.g. Van Haeperen, 2005; Devillé, 2008). Importantly, this is not only the case for low-skilled as compared to high-skilled jobs. Even within the high-skill segment, the varieties-of-capitalism(VoC) literature illustrates that workforces in developed economies compete in different labour market segments, namely in jobs requiring general and, respectively, specific skills (Estevez-Abe 2001; Hall & Soskice, 2001; Herrmann & Peine, 2011). While workers with high general skills typically have a broader imaginative capacity, which makes them particularly good in radically innovative tasks, workers with high specific skills tend to have a very deep understanding of specific areas which makes them particularly good at incrementally innovative tasks. This literature furthermore explains why workforces in economies with regulated labour markets (such as Germany) are more likely to acquire specific skills, whereas workforces in economies with liberal labour markets (such as the US) are more likely to develop general skills.
In line with this reasoning, we thus ask whether the same skill specialization patterns occur in the online gig economy for high skilled jobs: How do national institutions influence the supply and demand for high skill jobs in the online gig economy? On the supply side, we hypothesize that gig workers from economies with flexible labour markets possess more general skill profiles, whereas gig workers from economies with regulated labour markets possess more specific skill profiles. On the demand side, we examine whether the online gig economy is complementary to the respective national labour market – meaning that requesters hire gig workers with skill profiles that are lacking in their national labour market – or a substitute market, where the same skill specialisation patterns are still visible as in national labour markets.
We base our analyses on a dataset containing the worker profiles of one of the largest online gig economy platforms worldwide. In line with the VoC reasoning, we confine our dataset to workers from Western economies. To test our respective hypotheses, we make use of multilevel fixed effect regressions to examine the skill specialisation of worker. We furthermore use cross-classified multilevel logistic regressions to examine the hiring patterns in the online gig economy (Hox et al., 2010).
Our findings have several important implications. First, they show to what extent the online gig economy is, indeed, a truly global labour market, or rather a pool of national workforces that compete in different market segments. Second, they show whether, or not, national institutions have an impact on the shape of the online gig economy. This, in turn, also illustrates to what extent regulation at the national level has an influence even on a global labour market.