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REALITY CHECK

The online jobs revolution: Freelance is future of work

As permanent and pensionable jobs decline, temporary and task-based opportunities are arising thanks to the Internet

In Summary

• Freelancing is part of a global trend currently referred to as the ‘gig economy’

• The government recognises online work as the future of youth employment

A man works on his computer
A man works on his computer
Image: FILE

Permanent and pensionable jobs are no more. Employers are cutting staff costs by exploiting advances in digital technologies. Lower costs means more profits for employers and shareholders. It's a tough, brutally honest outlook regarding the future of employment.

This year has seen greater adoption of flexible working hours that have turned “working from home” into a popular catchphrase. Who would have thought that civil servants would one day be working from home? The trend started long before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and is likely to continue as employers adapt business practices to the new reality.

The decline of permanent jobs is bad news for the youth who, after spending almost 20 years at various levels of education, are eager to gain financial independence.

 

Governments are also shifting from permanent jobs to keep the wage bill down. The government is already making moves that could eventually place health care workers, teachers and other civil servants on contract instead of permanent employment.

 

The good news is that the digital technologies making traditional jobs redundant provide numerous income-earning opportunities through online freelance work. Freelancing is part of a global trend currently referred to as the ‘gig economy.’

A gig is basically a freelance job where the individual is hired for a specific task that has an end date. The pay is not fixed; it varies depending on the urgency of the task or how many other people are willing to perform the same task.

Online gigs offer flexible working hours, where the time spent on tasks is totally dependent on an individual’s choice, but quick turnarounds get rewarded. It is possible for an individual to work for several digital platforms. A good example is taxi drivers registering themselves on multiple taxi-hailing apps to get more customers.

Further good news is the government recognising online work as the future of youth employment. The Ajira Digital Programme, rolled out in 2016 by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies, aims at providing Kenyans with the tools, training and mentorship to exploit online working opportunities.

Speaking about Ajira, the ministry’s Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru said online work is “a revolution whose time has come”.

PRO TIP

The key to maximising on income is to take up as many tasks as possible. Many of the online jobs platforms now provide mobile phone apps that alert subscribers whenever new tasks are available.

JOBS AND PAYMENT

 

The kind of work available online varies across platforms. There are websites that offer tasks in article writing, data entry, audio transcription and search engine optimisation (SEO).

There are websites where freelancers upload photos or help organise image libraries. There are sites where freelancers are given tasks as simple as filling out surveys or taking pictures of infrastructure projects.

Gray Kassich, an online worker in Nairobi, says, “Online work is a viable gateway to livelihoods, though it requires persistence to break through due to competition at global level.”

Kassich took up online work as a side hustle to boost income from his regular job. It took time for him to start getting assignments. Once the work started coming, he had to work well into the night to satisfy his customers.

“The nature of online jobs is to establish trust and quality of work. Once that is made, your scores go up and you get repeat business from clients,” he explains. “It is not easy money, one has to be focused to put in the hours, nothing comes for free.”

Pay is dependent on the complexity of the task. Simple tasks such as filling out surveys pay as little as Sh10 per survey. Complex tasks such as taking and uploading videos might pay as much as Sh1,000 per task.

Writing articles pays on average about Sh400 per article. The key to maximising on income is to take up as many tasks as possible. Many of the online jobs platforms now provide mobile phone apps that alert subscribers whenever new tasks are available.

 

The flipside to freelancing is that tasks are not available every day. You might have a very busy week followed by an idle week. As more and more people start taking up online jobs, the number of tasks available to each individual drops and so does the pay.

In some cases, freelancing platforms that used to offer as much as Sh500 for a task are now offering less than Sh100 for the same task. This means that online workers have to take up more tasks to make the same amount of money as before. Online jobs have also been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic as the number of tasks from corporate clients has declined.

Freelancing work can discriminate against individuals lacking smartphones and computers. Online work demands a significant amount of data bundles and those unable to afford it get left behind, further worsening societal inequality between the haves and the have-nots. There are concerns that online freelancing platforms are collecting too much personal data that might end up in the wrong hands.

“I joined an online working platform but they were asking for too much personal details,” says Patricia Walowe a student. She felt uncomfortable having to provide pictures of herself, her national identity card, her tax certificate and to switch on her phone’s location.

“It felt as though they were more interested in collecting personal data than in the actual tasks,” she said. The collecting and selling of personal data has become big business across the world.

The government’s Ajira Programme warns about unscrupulous platforms claiming to provide online work. Their advice is for people to conduct background checks before taking assignments.

A good way of checking out a platform’s credibility is by searching for reviews from other users. Genuine online jobs platforms, according to Ajira, are free for anyone join. Do not submit assignments without understanding how much you should be paid and how the money will get to you. You just might end up working for free.

Edited by T Jalio