by Kimberly Jace
There’s a new category of worker in Central Florida—and you’ve already met them.
The woman who designed your business logo, the man who sold you that handmade sweater, and the Lyft driver who got you safely to your destination are not working jobs in the same way our parents and grandparents did. They are gig workers: self-employed, independent contractors and sole proprietors who earn money outside the structure of the full-time-jobs-with-benefits that once represented the American economy.
“Since the recession and its very slow recovery, people have had to wear many hats,” said Lou Paris, director of the Prince Entrepreneurship Program at Stetson University in Deland.
But what is a gig, anyway?
The gig economy is loosely defined, but gigs usually have two things in common:
The work is temporary, short-term, and project-based, rather than paying a salary
The employees find the work through non-traditional means.
While some gig workers perform freelance services for established businesses—for example, a secretarial job through a temporary employment agency—others use web platforms such as Fiverr and phone apps like Uber to find their clients. Craigslist online ads or Facebook postings also are a vital means of obtaining informal gig work, like house cleaning or pet sitting. And eBay and Etsy provide a means for anyone to sell a product.
The gig economy here and nationwide
CareerSource Florida’s Strategic Policy & Performance Council undertook a six-month study this year to find out how the gig economy is impacting Florida. The survey discovered many Floridians providing services through short-term assignments—both on the internet and in-person—as well as creating and selling products. Robin King, CEO of CareerSource Volusia- Flagler, estimates there are 7,700 self-employed workers in the immediate area. A recent survey by the Federal Reserve Board showed that nationwide, a full one-third of American workers earn some or all of their income through non-traditional, part-time jobs.
According to the CareerSource study, Volusia and Flagler counties in central Florida are prime locations for gig work because of the area’s concentration of hospitality, transportation, and healthcare jobs, as well as its education and professional services. Many gig economy workers—especially those who operate online—can perform their services from anywhere. Florida’s mild weather doesn’t hurt, according to Leslie Giscombe, founder of the Palm Coast-based African American Entrepreneurs Club.
“Our area happens to attract people because of the weather,” he said. “There are people here who say, I’m not going to get a job like I would have up north, but I’d love to stay in this area. What can I do?”
What types of gig workers are there?
Lisa Ekinci, co-founder of Office Divvy—a Palm Coast company that provides a professional location and business support services—said some people who work relatively tame full-time jobs use their free time to develop businesses that follow their passions.
Ekinci said when she arrived in Florida in 2004, she noticed that “everybody did two or three things. I’d meet someone who would say, I’m a Realtor, but I also own a housekeeping company, and I have a kayaking thing on the side.”
The ride-sharing app Uber and Airbnb—a room rental web site—“really mainstreamed” the concept of the gig economy, Ekinci said.
The CareerSource study said most gig workers fall into a few categories:
Supplementers: Middle-skill level employees who sporadically get extra income from temp agencies or seasonal work. Many are on fixed incomes, but others add jobs occasionally to help them meet unexpected expenses.
Alternatives: People, often without formal job training, who have trouble finding regular, full-time jobs due to disability or other limitations. Many arrange informal jobs such as housekeeping or babysitting to help make ends meet.
Subscribers: Highly skilled workers, including retirees, who serve as consultants or sole proprietors to make use of their expertise and stay active in their fields.
Creatives: Artists and those who are passionate about a hobby, of all skill levels, who create jobs that serve their area of interest.
A variety of job opportunities
Some Central Floridians who advertise on online platforms list their skills as software programming, graphic design and editing, and accounting. But the list of possibilities is extensive. Gig workers involved in home health care, financial planning, paralegal work, landscaping, and appliance repair also thrive here.
While gig work cuts across age, gender, and racial demographics, gig workers tend to skew toward younger, highly-educated, and urban workers. The CareerSource survey found gig work opportunities are especially useful for recent immigrants, non-English speakers including refugees, military spouses, people laid off or hit by natural disasters, and students needing tuition.
Some gig workers just like to keep their hand in a business that they enjoy. Mark Woods and a few friends opened Fun Coast Bartending, a Palm Coast-based business that provides bartenders for local events, seven years ago when he found he had more bartending jobs than he could handle. Now he manages a network of thirty independent bartenders-for-hire—all people who have other jobs, but have served as bartenders at some point in their lives.
“They still like the fun of bartending. It’s a very social job, and the money is good. In four hours, you can make a couple hundred dollars,” Woods said.
By turning his overflow work into a business, he said, he is capitalizing on the gig economy, “and also providing an opportunity for others.”
Creating a gig job
Gig work also can provide extra income for anyone who can find a common need or a niche market. Kenny Harris, a video game technician from Port Orange with a degree in drafting and design, has a cutting-edge side gig: He creates files to produce custom items on his 3-D printer.
“Anyone with a 3-D printer can download files that other people have done,” he said, “but if you want custom stuff, that’s where I’m hoping to make my money.”
The best market he’s found for his service is with people who need special costume pieces for cosplay, he said, but he recently created and printed a tiny part that is no longer made for a vintage auto’s trim. “I charged $75, and it took me ten minutes to design and an hour to print it,” he said.
Harris’ ten-year-old daughter, a next-generation gig worker, is rapidly learning how to create 3-D designs, he said.
Gig work and the future
What does the future hold for the burgeoning gig economy? Governmental changes might be in store, because the employment services currently in place are based primarily on traditional, full-time workers. Some career counseling and training services aren’t available to gig workers, according to the CareerSource study.
Leslie Giscombe was recently appointed to participate in a statewide study researching ways Florida can help support the expanding gig economy. Nationwide, gig work might represent a full half of all income by the year 2030, according to some estimates.
But where is your place in the gig economy? If you can’t find the gig-based job that suits you best, Lou Paris suggests you invent one.
“You don’t need a lot to get started,” he said. “Look at your skills and experience. Then find a problem in your field of interest and come up with a solution.”
Kimberley Jace is a freelance writer and editor with more than thirty years of print journalism and book editing experience.