So, what’s your gig?   


By Benjamin Lyngdoh 

Literally speaking, the word ‘gig’ is related to music and songs. It represents an art form. At the beginning of the 20th century it primarily signified the performance of a band/singer at a public house (commonly referred to as a ‘pub’) or some event/concert. This generic understanding of the word ‘gig’ is still there. However, in contemporary times it has taken a new form altogether. It is now a catchword to drive home a point. This is predominantly driven by the nature of jobs available and the number of employable youths seeking employment. It is more of a livelihoods thing. As such, today the word ‘gig’ is closely associated with the nature of work that the youth does. This has led to the derivation of terms such as ‘gig employment’, ‘gig economy’, ‘gig worker’ and so forth. Point being, in a situation where the job-seekers are many and the opportunities scarce; ‘gig’ is the only way out for the youth. Subsequently, as per observations and discussions over time with the youth of Shillong, this article is penned down.

Firstly, when gigs are combined together we have something which is called a ‘gig economy’. Globally, it is one of the main sectors that drives the economic growth of a country. In the western economies, gig economy is already a happening thing. In Asia, Japan and South Korea are heading the show. In India, it is catching up and in Shillong it has initiated to the extent that it is already and will continue to become a source of bread and butter for many in the years to come. As such and in relation to the crux of the gig economy, it is like numerous writers have written stating that ‘the age for jobs is over; now it is the age of work’. The nature of this work is such that it is bundled and is to be performed in the nature of gigs. Aptly, researchers have defined it as ‘an earnings environment where the supply and demand for skill sets are contracted between those that have a need and those who can fulfill that need’. So it is basically a work environment of ‘get in and get it done and get out’. Amidst all this, it is crucial to factor in that this ‘gig economy’ generally functions on the digital platform. It is predominantly IT related work of a specialized form. Hence, IT and ICT is the lifeblood of the gig economy and the skills for such work is important so as to get by.

Secondly, if there is a gig economy then there is also a ‘gig worker’. But, who exactly are these workers? In addition, are they significant? Well, to put things in perspective ‘gig workers’ are those who are not tied-up or contracted formally to any employer. They are more like freelance workers. They work for everyone but they are not tied to anyone. But no, they are not to be accused of job-hopping as they are not contracted to any job as such. In most cases, they are those youth who are educated with specialized knowledge and skills which act as their ‘unique selling proposition’. These skills are predominantly IT related. They are good with computers, gadgets, software, applications and so forth with which they deliver value for the clientele. Programming for a gaming application is one such example. As such, they get paid work/task wise. While all of this might seem rosy; on hindsight, gig workers do face challenges of job security and a steady flow of emoluments (as in the case of traditional job employment). Hence, many gig workers view their work as an experience certificate to regularize employment in due course of time. Come to think of it, that is a pretty smart move!

Thirdly, the degree of unemployed youth in Shillong has been increasing in perpetuity. Every year, thousands of them come out of university education systems with a need to fend for themselves. In fact, in contemporary times just a university or any other educational degree is not enough. There is a need to train in additional competencies that are in demand in the job market. As such, those who are capable and able engage themselves as gig workers. For them, it is good sustenance in the short-term. Well, I stated earlier that the gig economy and gig workers are predominantly IT related. However, Shillong is not an IT hub. Hence, there are many youths here who are gig workers but not for IT related task per se. They are involved in outsourced work, cleaning, service agents, food/product delivery services, school children dropping, part-time tuitions, part-time engagements like teaching and so forth. Nevertheless, even in Shillong gig workers who are skilled in IT and IT related solutions (e.g. graphics and designing) do earn a lot more. In addition, there are many government employees who are ‘gig workers’. They have enterprises and activities in the name of ‘other persons’. Whether this is ethical or not is not the brief of this write-up. The point here is that they do as such so that they can make their ends meet. Alas, a gig can make the livelihoods of many households!

Fourthly, as per my personal observations it is inferred that ‘every fourth youth counted in Shillong is a gig worker’. This means that 25% of the youth workforce is not formally tied and is not in contractual terms with the employer. Although, this may have its own plus points such as a freedom to work at many places, greater spread of earnings and so forth; it is also a serious problem area. The issue of pay related to the work done apart from exploitation is at the forefront. There are cases where the gig workers are not offered or given their fair due for the task done. Sometimes they are being viewed as being useless citizens of the soil who deserve no respect and attention whatsoever. Now just factor this, the government is in no position to absorb the current and future workforce on offer. Nowadays, the chances of getting a traditional government employment are as good as zero. This only means that the population of possible gig workers in Meghalaya (not just Shillong) is going to increase manifold. As such, it is only fair that the government draws up some form of remuneration rules to be applied to the various forms of gig work. It will be complex and tough, but looking into the future scenario it must be tried!

Lastly, efficient and effective gig workers are valuable talents to be groomed into entrepreneurs. These youth need a platform to initiate and take-off with their ideas. Moreover, we are at an age where majority of the jobs will be powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and IT solutions. Today, entrepreneurship across all forms has to be IT related/supported else it would not survive. Hence, we have to be ready and act on it. To this end, the state government can think of a ‘Meghalaya Innovative Start-up Scheme’ (or something to that effect) to encourage and assist promising-budding entrepreneurs. The scheme may be awarded to a handful of entrepreneurs (with brilliant ideas) on a yearly basis with a meaningful amount of finance. After all, the saying that ‘little drops of water make a mighty ocean’ is very true. A gig is just a drop with a potential to multiply into something great. So, what’s your gig?                                                             

(The Author teaches at NEHU)

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