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As Australians turn to the gig economy in droves, what lessons lurk for SMEs?

An old proverb says, ‘may you live in interesting times.’ Businesses across Australia are certainly living this reality; if interesting means scary, exciting, and full of unexpected tripwires at every turn.

Over the past few years, Australia has been battling a significant skills shortage across all sectors. This was the catalyst for the recent Jobs and Skills Summit, which saw the government pledge measures, including subsidised TAFE courses and additional funding to address the crisis.

The shortage has already, and unsurprisingly, translated to real-world consequences. The construction sector is experiencing what it calls ‘the challenge of the decade’, with job vacancies jumping 80 per cent since 2019, delaying infrastructure projects and driving up prices.

Meanwhile, a recent study found that most Australian business leaders are delaying sustainability initiatives as they contend with the impacts of the ongoing skills deficit. All of this is happening against a backdrop of increased economic pressures.

Inflation has reached its highest level in 21 years, with the peak reportedly yet to come. In July, it was reported that supply chain problems and rising shipping costs caused the highest goods inflation since 1987.

Interest rates, meanwhile, have risen to record highs, and banks predict they will reach three per cent by year’s end, putting unprecedented pressure on households. Everyday Australians have adapted to the current climate in various ways, including making some extra cash through unconventional side hustles.

Aussies turn to side hustles in record numbers

When the Great Depression hit in 1929, many Americans turned to making fudge or selling newspapers on street corners to make ends meet. And in 2022, Australians are applying the same ingenuity with a digital twist.

Our analysis of Australian web traffic over the past year shows that traffic to the sign-up pages for the six most popular gig economy platforms has risen significantly. In 2022, online food ordering platform Doordash experienced an astronomical growth rate of more than 1150 per cent to its ‘Dasher’ site for delivery drivers.

Meanwhile, Amazon Flex, a website for people who want to sign up to become Amazon delivery drivers using their own vehicles, was the second-fastest growing gig economy site, with more than double the traffic this year compared to 2021.

Uber has also experienced significant growth, with traffic to its driver sign-up page increasing by 70 per cent yearly. Another booming platform is the content subscription service OnlyFans.

Although OnlyFans does not have a dedicated domain for content creators like the previous sites, users looking to monetise their content have to select a “subscription” fee for their fans through the Account Settings page. When analysing the Australian traffic to this site section, it is clear that more people are looking to make money through OnlyFans.

Between April and May 2022, we saw a 90 per cent increase in traffic to the “subscription” subdomain on OnlyFans, while between June and July this year, there was a 67 per cent surge in people looking to monetise their content on the site.

What businesses can learn from this shift

It would be remiss to ignore the fact that people are turning to side hustles to make extra cash as inflation tightens its grip.

But it’s also worth considering why people are turning to these professions when there’s no shortage of other jobs to choose from – and ones that likely offer higher salaries. Job marketplace Seek recently confirmed that advertised salaries grew 4.1 per cent across Australia over the last year.

These gig economy roles offer a range of benefits, namely the freedom to set your own work schedule. This has been a key demand by workers since the start of the pandemic, leading to the ‘Great Resignation’ trend we saw last year.

Recent research from IWG found that 72 per cent of workers want long-term flexibility, and 42 per cent of Gen Z workers would even pass on pay rises of between six to 20 per cent if it meant being offered hybrid work arrangements.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that organisations can no longer apply guesswork to the motivations of prospective employees, potential customers, and the strategies used to attract both cohorts .

While the influx of people on street corners proffering newspapers was once all the evidence needed that job market changes were afoot, people now spend the majority of their time online, and are using digital channels to research, find, and apply for different roles in the same way consumers have shifted to digital channels throughout the customer journey.   

All of this digital activity generates data. By leveraging digital intelligence to uncover behavioural insights on where people are searching, what they’re searching for, and how they’re searching for it, you can gain more context on what’s actually happening in your industry and understand the trends shaping your market.

This will allow you to better tailor acquisition and retention strategies, whether that’s to attract more potential customers to your website or the talent needed to thrive in the interesting times we live in.

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Emmanuel Heymann

Emmanuel Heymann

Emmanuel Heymann is Area Vice President for Australia, New Zealand & Southeast Asia at digital intelligence platform, Similarweb. Over the past nine years, he has held various management positions at Similarweb in Tel Aviv, New York, and Sydney. Emmanuel earned a B.A in Government, Diplomacy & Strategy from IDC Herzliya and a Masters in International Relations from the London School of Economics. Prior to working at Similarweb, he participated in different projects at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Economy. Throughout his career, he has lived, worked, and travelled extensively throughout Europe, the US and the Middle East, speaks multiple languages, enjoys flight simulators and, during his free time, he desperately tries to understand AFL rules.

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