Apps for a Pandemic Economy: Part-time, no commitment

Gabrielle Walker was looking for a part time job for months. She applied to restaurants and retailers such as Primark and Nando's, and then she searched Indeed for a job.

Apps for a Pandemic Economy: Part-time, no commitment

Walker, a University College London student, scrolled through TikTok one day and came across a video about Stint. The screen showed a face explaining that Stint could be used to help students make money. Students can work in short-term jobs at bars and restaurants that don't require any training or experience.

Walker downloaded the app and took a short intro course. Days later, Walker was offered a position as a cutlery polisher at a Michelin star restaurant in London. She took on several gigs between May and June, fitting them in her class schedule when she could.

Walker stated, "Everyone can do it."

Stint is a popular app in the U.K. and similar apps in the United States such as Instaworks or Gigpro. This is in response to the unusual ways that economies are recovering from the pandemic recession. Flexibility has been a priority for both workers and employees due to uncertainty about the longevity of recovery efforts and tentative reopenings of businesses that are still under threat by the coronavirus.

These apps have helped to create a very short-term worker-employee relationship that is rare in recent years, as the hospitality industry faces shortages of workers. Walker pointed out that even students without relevant experience can sign up for one of these apps to find work that suits their schedule, even if it's only for a few hours.

Instaworks and Gigpro, in contrast to Stint are more suited for skilled workers or those who need short-term work. The newer apps are a mix of the many gig apps that have sprung up in recent years, from Uber and DoorDash to TaskRabbit or Thumbtack. They typically provide a one-time service for households. The latest apps are unique in that they connect workers with employers who have a steady labor demand but don't want to commit to permanent hirings due to the uncertainty of the pandemic.

"It's not surprising that during COVID when everything became virtual, that these... marketplaces might exploded," Fiona Greig (co-president, JPMorgan Chase Institute), a global financial thinktank whose research expertise includes online platform economies, said.

Newer gig apps may help alleviate the labour shortage in England. Nearly all pandemic restrictions were lifted last week. Most recently, its " pingdemic" -- by which the National Health Service alerted people to self-isolate if they had been in close proximity to someone who had tested positive for the virus -- disrupted businesses. Some stores were forced to close temporarily because of lack of workers, so many workers had to be isolated.

Mariano Mamertino (a senior economist at LinkedIn) said that "gig economy workers can help fill the gap."

Mamertino believes that pandemic-related shortages in England will decrease as the economy reopens and vaccination rollouts continue. However, "one question that remains for UK" he stated, "is whether UK firms will have to adapt permanently to a new post Brexit status quo."

The trend is not universally embraced by everyone. UKHospitality is the largest trade association representing Britain's hospitality industry. It suggested that, while businesses are used in innovating, economic forces that have caused staff shortages in this sector could cause enduring problems.

Along with the British Beer and Pub Association and British Institute of Innkeeping the association stated that to recover the country must "put in place a favorable trading environment," which includes tax reductions for businesses. UKHospitality also called for a revision of post-Brexit visa rules in order to make it easier to work in the sector.

Stint was co-founded by Sol Schlagman and his brother Sam. He drew on his college experience in creating it.

He said that "it's the student who needs money to pay their rent, but it's also that student that wants to purchase a pair of shoes that they wouldn't normally buy."

Jacob Sumner, director of European operations at Chipotle, said that Stint is used by the restaurant chain to hire workers "at short notice to help cover peak times in our restaurants." Chilango, another food company, stated that the app is used by its stores when they have "extra hands" during busy times.

Apps that connect workers and businesses for temporary gig work seem to be on the rise in the United States.

Sumir Meghani (CEO and co-founder) of Instaworks, which connects companies with temporary or hourly workers, said, "The greatest change we see"

Meghani stated that businesses learned during the pandemic that viral cases can rise or fall, causing disruptions to their operations. This sometimes required them to adjust their scale at short notice.

Ben Ellsworth, founder of Gigpro, observed that there was more flexibility in the worker-employer relationship over the pandemic period. The app is currently available in three states in the South of the United States and it is expanding to meet staff shortages caused by the pandemic.

Ellsworth, who worked for years in the restaurant business, stated that workers in restaurants have been "plagued by low wages, lack incentive, and no real focus on flexibility or life quality." Many of these workers, Ellsworth suggested to Ellsworth, either found work in other industries or recognized gig work as a way to customize their work hours to suit their needs. This realization came just as businesses began to seek workers to fill hourly part-time slots, at least temporarily, as they eased their business restrictions.

Ellsworth stated that "now that restrictions have been lifted, businesses are beginning to boom again", and "they're getting stretched."

These apps offer flexibility, but some critics see a danger to workers in the long-term. The possibility that gig workers will replace permanent retail or restaurant employees could lead to a decrease in job security and sick pay.

Ann Light, a professor of design technology and creative technology at University of Sussex, said that while the flexibility of the gig economy is welcome in times of crisis, it can also come at a cost to society.

Greig admitted that apps can lower entry barriers for those who require cash fast, which is a group that includes many young workers without much work experience.

These apps can have a wide range of roles for gig workers. Stint students are considered workers and receive a guaranteed wage and holiday pay. Instaworks users are independent workers and can choose to be employees or contractors. Users of Gigpro are considered independent contractors.

Light suggested that platforms also look at the world from a global perspective while fighting local jurisdictions. In Britain, Uber drivers won the right to work this year. __S.48__

The worker apps seem to be filling a niche. Monty Jackson is a student at University of Plymouth, England. He's found work through Stint and has been able to fund his swimming hobby.

He was employed part-time in bars and restaurants. He was unable to study due to the many shifts he had to work. He now works only when he is available, and sometimes he finds a job the same day that he searches for it.

Jackson stated, "The flexibility attracted to me."

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