Perhaps in California’s Share Economy?

Michael Bernick
Former California Employment Development Department Director, whose newest book is The Autism Job Club (with R. Holden).

At the Share Economy conference in San Francisco earlier this month, speakers from the internet economy companies and their investors touted their new industry, as “creating a new movement”, “shifting human behavior”, a “revolution in how consumers view the world”.

Hyperbole? Yes. Over the top? Yes. Failure to consider negative consequences? Yes.

But in the main the speakers are correct. The Share Economy offers a range of important improvements in how we live and travel in California: in transportation, in reduction of waste products, in air and water quality, in resource savings.

shareeconomyMoreover, the Share Economy is creating new forms of employment, which we in California’s private sector and public sector workforce community need to pay far more attention to. The Share Economy is offering new opportunities for entrepreneurship, self-employment, and micro-businesses—at a time when job scarcity in California continues underneath the official employment numbers.

AirBnb, to take a prominent Share Economy firm, is creating hundreds of jobs directly. Starting with its two founders in 2007, the company grew to over 600 employees by mid-2013. These are jobs not only for programmers and software engineers, but also for account executives, administrative assistants, marketing and sales specialists.

The far greater employment impact of AirBnB, though, is creating employment for the hundreds of thousands of hosts across the world. These are not traditional “jobs” . But they are forms of employment. These hosts gain income in return for their labor in developing, arranging and maintaining rentals of rooms or houses.

AirBnB has helped spur an industry of other firms for renting out other forms of real estate: commercial spaces and offices as well as rooms. Beyond real estate, the Share Economy is giving rise to renting out of cars, parking spaces, appliances and a growing range of other products. In each of these cases, the internet firms are hiring directly; but their hiring is dwarfed by the number of individuals engaged in the rentals, who are creating forms of entrepreneurship and employment for themselves.

Accompanying this market for products is the Share Economy’s new markets for services. Companies such as Vayable or Task Rabbit enable individuals to create or expand self-employment in travel guide expertise, house chores, shopping and handyman tasks.

Then there is Uber. Uber is sometimes described as a Share Economy firm, since drivers use their own vehicles. But it and the other transportation companies including Lyft and Sidecar represent “sharing” of a different kind: the use of technology to transform and tremendously improve the transportation industry. Uber is eliminating jobs in traditional cab companies. However, it is creating far more jobs for drivers than it is eliminating.

uberCritics of Uber and other car companies claim that these Uber jobs are low wage. But recent reports on the industry indicate cab drivers are leaving traditional cab companies to join Uber for higher pay and better work conditions.

At the same time, much of the other Share Economy employment is not the full-time, stable employment that most Californians desire, and that the workforce system aims for. Employment such as the “personal shopper” jobs being generated by Instacart, may soon be replaced by technology or see wages bid down.

Yet, what needs to be said about all of the Share Economy and related industries is that they and their employment forms are in very early stages. Each of the parts of the Share Economy is rapidly evolving, with firms coming in and out, and the conditions of employment rapidly shifting. The main point: the workforce system may be able to help shape this future employment, and at the least needs to more closely track it.

At a recent meeting of our Autism Job Club in San Francisco, there was a lot of excitement about Uber. Most of our members do not drive, and some have difficulty taking the bus. Uber offers an option that is safe and affordable to many of our members—at least to use in terms of late night trips when public transit is scarce or in emergencies.

Further, our Autism Job Club members are themselves candidates for Share Economy positions. Our members generally prefer full time steady employment, but other alternatives are needed. At a recent Club meeting, one of our senior members, in his sixties, stated: “I’m not looking for a job, I couldn’t get a job, or hold a job. But I’d like to find some way of generating income.”

Perhaps in the Share Economy.

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