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The Gig Economy Takes Flight: Senior Workers Rejoice

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The concept of the gig economy is not new. Ever since the term “gig” was coined by jazz musicians in the 1920s to refer to one-off or short-term jobs, the concept of working freelance projects to make a living has been part of the national conversation.

However, things took a major turn in the new millennium. With the arrival of digital tools such as the internet, apps, cell phones, and video-conferencing, as well as the financial collapse of 2008 that saw people searching for new and creative ways to pick up work, the gig economy took on a life of its own. Over the past decade, the number of gig workers at American companies has skyrocketed 15%, according to the ADP Research Institute. To put this in perspective, Forbes recently noted that roughly 57 million Americans currently engage in some type of gig work, with some estimates predicting that freelance workers will make up more than half the U.S. workforce by 2023.

Of course, this is all before a global pandemic upended the world—and business—as we know it. It’s safe to say Covid has only accelerated this trend. Job flexibility has transformed from a perk to a necessity for many, Forbes notes, especially for working parents or those caring for sick or aging relatives. The result is that more and more businesses have needed to adapt by embracing gig workers, remote work and flexible schedules.

This is all particularly good news for senior workers—or pretirees, as we like to call ourselves. Even before Covid, nearly a third of gig economy workers were age 55 or older. In a recent Business Insider article, aging and retirement expert Elizabeth White noted that during the pandemic, the gig economy has provided a welcome alternative to both potentially risky in-office work and retirement for older workers. It’s a win-win: These individuals get to continue participating in the workforce, bringing in needed income and learning new skills, while businesses get to reap the benefits of their knowledge and experience. White added that she expects freelancing to become the norm for these Americans.

So what does that mean? Not only do businesses need to embrace gig work in general, but they need to consider the fact that many more gig workers will be older—and they need to put supports in place to attract and retain them. Examples of this can include:

  • Ensuring access to and training for your business’s essential technology tools. Don’t assume everybody knows how to use Zoom or Skype. Offer training courses to ensure senior workers aren’t left behind.
  • Revamping the hiring strategy. Consider tools to engage in “blind hiring”—narrow down candidates with no bias towards age or location.
  • Closed-captioning video conferences, webinars and other virtual events. This helps those who are hard of hearing to follow along.
  • Making older workers feel valued. Consider implementing coaching and mentorship opportunities for seniors to share their experiences and provide invaluable help and advice to younger workers.

As the gig economy continues to grow over the next few years, seniors are in a unique position to take advantage. What are some other ways businesses can ensure they reap the benefits of this valuable talent pool?

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