I was last week at the SHIFT conference organized by TheFamily (a french accelerator and investor in startups based in Paris). They analyzed the effects of the digital transition on employment and what it means for the future of work. This speech was given by Nicolas Colin, an associate and co-founder of the company.

Disruption of the labor market

The internet and startups economy and was first see in the 1990s has an opportunity to create new and qualified jobs. But the statistics were wrong : in the USA 68,000 jobs were destroyed before 2008 instead of the 2.7 million jobs that were supposed to be created in the perimeter of the digital economy according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In fact, the digital affect a lot the middle-classes as it is destroying their jobs and polarizing the labor force. It creates a few qualified creative and managerial jobs and on the other side low skills jobs in personal care services. This is due to 4 things :

  • Robotization and algorithms : replacing manual and simple task jobs.
  • AI : replacing more intellectual jobs based on a lot of knowledge.
  • Free work of the masses : like comments on restaurants and hotels replacing professional testers.
  • Amateurs doing professional jobs : bloggers become reporters and unprofessional drivers turn into taxi drivers.

Self-employed are only coming-back

Nowadays, the self-employed workers category is growing fast and should overtake the employee category in the future, but it is only a just reward ! Indeed, sedentary work is a norm that was instaured by Fordism and capitalism, adapted to the big companies and multinational those ways of working created a lot of structures and levels. This is what permitted the development of the middle class : the white-collar workers.

As we can see in the graph the self-employment rate in Germany, USA and more over in France was drastically reduced those past 50 years (and it started before).

But, this trend has ended and self-employed people are rising with the digital economy and the destruction of traditional white-collar jobs in companies. With internet it easier than before and less-expensive to go self-employed : you have all the ressources available for free online and the cost of assets and equipment (computers, cameras…) decreased sharply. The 2008 crisis only amplified and accelerated the framework.

The rise of platforms

Self-employed workers are also boosted by the development of new online platforms : uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Upwork, Etsy, Deliveroo, Lending Club, Fiverr…

They are helping entrepreneurs to find customers through their marketplaces and their infrastructure : you do not need to develop your own infrastructure and marketplace anymore. It is cheap and fast to start your activity and it is also easier to combine several different activities.

Thus, new self-employed workers are different from the traditional ones as most of the time they are not leaders of small businesses or stores but freelancers working on demand.

Thanks to Laetitia Audouin for the help on writing this article.

  1. Very interesting. I was astonished at the overall decrease in self-employment in the latter half of the 20th century and how it has risen only in the past 20 years. I’m wondering why Germany’s rate rose earlier and higher than the rate in France and the US.

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