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Online Working – The most crucial skills for thriving in the online platform economy are technical-core skills

The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has highlighted the vast opportunities of working and learning digitally.In these exceptional times, where a large part of the workforce has been obliged to work remotely due to home confinement and social distancing measures, gig or crowd-workers have enjoyed a kind of ‘home field’ advantage: working and interacting digitally has always been their prevailing mode of operation. What can we learn from these online workers who mastered the art of working and learning remotely long before the public health crisis?

When work is abundant, crowdworkers have some leverage to adjust their working arrangements and to choose projects that may complement their skills or provide the best source of income.

In times of turmoil and economic uncertainty, however, people tend to rely on their existing skillsets to survive. Yet, during the pandemic, and especially in the face of a looming recession, skills development and continued learning are the most powerful tools all workers, including crowdworkers, have at their disposal to remain competitive.

Insights into what skills gig workers learn and need in order to be successful in the platform economy give us some clues as to what will be needed to align vocational education and training (VET) provision to emerging labour market needs. In many ways, the gig economy provides the most visible example of the technology-induced transformations taking place in European labour markets: increase in self-employment and contingent work, substitution of line management by customer feedback, increased telework and virtual teamwork, and firms’ use of data and al- gorithms to manage their workers. These trends in the online gig economy are indicative of how a large share of today’s workforce may be learning and working tomorrow.

Developing skills

According to a novel, inductive skills typology developed as part of the project, the most crucial skills for thriving in the online platform economy are technical/ core skills, including high-level and specialised digital skills. But crowdworkers also need a unique blend of entrepreneurial, self-branding, communication and organisational skills as well as focused personal dispositions to be successful in the platform business.

Some skills stand out. ‘Obtaining work on a platform’ requires a skillset necessary for successfully navigating the unique environment of platform-based work. This includes mastering platform user interfaces, optimising one’s profile to appear frequently in search results, reading the market to pitch and price one’s services appropriately and other similar specialised skills. ‘Setting up as a freelancer’ refers to the skills necessary for operating as a self-employed person more generally, such as registering as a business and dealing with finances and taxation. ‘Self-regulatory learning skills’ refer to the ability to understand and identify one’s own changing skill requirements, being proactive in seeking feedback, being self-reflective and capable of changing one’s learning strategies when not working: all these are found to be crucial to success in crowdwork.

To obtain core skills required to complete specific work tasks, crowdworkers tend to rely on just-in-time acquisition of knowledge. Free online video tutorials and websites are among the most important resources, while formal training offered by learning providers is often perceived as too time-consuming and generic.

On the other side of the market, platform companies engage in some initiatives to support gig work- ers’ skills development. These include referrals or commercial partnerships and joint courses with training providers, facilitation of peer-to-peer courses and creation of digital social spaces for learning. Initiatives also include publishing lists of skills in demand from the platform’s clients and facilitating client feedback on gig workers’ performance.

Cedefop’s CrowdLearn study reveals, however, that platform companies are generally wary of getting directly involved in training, as this could put them at risk of being legally classified as employers. The result is a ‘missing training market’ and potential under-investment in crowdworkers’ skill formation.

Matching skills

A key value proposition of online labour platforms is their declared ability to match workers’ skills to employers’ needs. However, Cedefop’s CrowdLearn study has identified some hurdles to efficient skills matching in this area.

Skils matching in online platform markets takes place largely via proprietary skills classification systems. Platforms often convey them publicly in the form of lists of most-in-demand skills and client feedback/ reputation rankings. But they also use non-transparent matching algorithms which endorse worker placement through automated ranking in their web portals; they regulate entry requirements and screen new freelancers for their skills and experience prior to their entry to the platform.

Qualifications obtained through formal education, the traditional means of signalling and screening workers in labour markets, are considered a weak signal of crowdworker trustworthiness, subordinate to client evaluation or ranking scores.

Three out of four gig workers needed neither platform-specific credentials nor skills tests to obtain projects.

The limited inter-platform portability of gig work- ers’ skills and reputation is also of concern. 57% of crowdworkers surveyed by Cedefop believe they cannot switch to another platform without negatively impacting their income. This limits workers’ mobility between platforms and also from crowdwork to tradi- tional employment.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @ Briefing note – Online working and learning in the coronavirus era | Cedefop

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