Platform work: Skills use and skills development

30 Junij 2020

Platform work is a form of employment that uses an online platform to enable organisations or individuals to access other organisations or individuals to solve problems or to provide services in exchange for payment. While small in scale, platform work in Europe is diverse, with the different types of platform work having a different impact on the working conditions of platform workers as well as on the labour market.

Skills use in platform work

Types of platform work that are related to small-scale tasks that require general skills or a low level of specific skills are widely recognised as an opportunity to provide labour market access. Often, also population groups disadvantaged on or further away from the labour market have the skills required for these tasks and can benefit from platform work to earn (additional) income and gain or enhance work experience. However, basic digital skills – in terms of being able to work through the platform, for example uploading one’s profile, search and bid for tasks, and partly conduct the work online – are an essential pre-requisite for conducting platform work.

However, available research also shows that many platform workers are highly educated, but nevertheless conduct low-qualified tasks. Accordingly, skills mismatch and overqualification is common for platform-mediated routine tasks. If highly skilled workers engage over a longer term in low-skilled basic routine tasks, there arises a risk of deskilling. From a labour market perspective this can be particularly problematic if the workers get locked in in platform work while they would prefer a job with more favourable working conditions in the traditional economy, but cannot transition.

In platform work requiring moderate to higher skills, workers are in a better position to use their skills, including those informally required and potentially not recognised in the traditional economy.

Limited occupational skills development in platform work

Low-skilled, small-scale basic routine tasks mediated through online platforms or apps (such as online click-work, food delivery, person transport) offer limited on-the-job learning opportunities for occupational skills due to the nature of the tasks.

Also in higher-skilled tasks and larger projects, as for example found in the creative industries (for example, translations, design, programming) skills development tends to be limited as workers rather opt for tasks for which they already have the skills in order to maximise their time use/earnings ratio. However, there also are platform workers, notably young professionals entering the labour market, who use this type of work to gain practical experience and further develop their skills through work experience with low entry barriers.

Opportunity to develop transversal and entrepreneurial skills

Some types of platform work can be strategically used to try out self-employment or enhance an already ongoing self-employed activity. This, for example, relates to professional household services (like plumbing, gardening) or to activities in the creative industries (such as translations, design, programming). Self-employed already active in these fields can use platforms to fill idle times or to increase their client stock. Employees or labour market entrants can use platforms as an easy-entry and low-risk mode to explore a self-employed activity.

By doing so, workers can test and further develop transversal and entrepreneurial skills, such as communication, dealing with clients, self-organisation, management etc. Fostering the awareness of this potential, and encouraging (future) self-employed to strategically use platforms for this purpose could be an innovative policy angle.

Emerging initiatives to foster training in platform work

Several platforms offer training for their workers. While in many cases this is limited to issues related to how to deal with the system, in some cases they give practical tips on how to deal with clients or even offer occupational training.

It has to be noted that platforms tend to be cautious to offer such training as this might be interpreted by labour courts as an indication for an employment relationship in case they contract the workers as self-employed and this status is questioned. On the other hand, some platforms willingly offer additional services like training to the workers, to achieve a competitive edge over other platforms to attract and retain clients (due to better service quality) and workers (due to more beneficial conditions).

From a policy perspective, finding a balance between incentivising platforms to offer such services without the risk to be brought to court if they engage in genuine self-employment relationships with the workers could be considered.

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