#SFSW16: Why the ‘Gig Economy’ Is Not the Future of Work

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In a morning keynote at Street Fight Summit West in San Francisco on Tuesday, Thumbtack CEO Marco Zappacosta discussed the challenges facing skilled professionals and long-term trends within the service sector.

Service sector jobs are making up a larger share of the economy as manufacturing continues to slide, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as many as 94% of all jobs will be service sector jobs in the coming decade. Zappacosta sees Thumbtack serving a central role in the lives of professionals working in this sector.

“The reality is that [professionals] shouldn’t have to be skilled online marketers to be successful business owners,” he said. “They really should only have to serve their customers well and provide a great service to be successful.”

Thumbtack connects consumers with the right professionals to get what they need done. The company has managed to attract more than 200,000 paying professionals without a sales force, a feat that Zappacosta says they’ve been able to accomplish by solving the core problem facing skilled professionals — finding customers.

Platforms like Instacart and Uber are supplying supplemental income to their partners, but Zappacosta says the data shows that fewer than 5% of people are using these types of platforms as their sole sources of income.

“These platforms are awesome consumer innovations, but we don’t believe that we should be looking to them as the models for the future of work,” he said.

Automation is front and center in what Zappacosta sees as the future of work. Forty-seven percent employment in the U.S. is at risk of automation, according to researchers at Oxford, with machines taking over a more substantial share of routine tasks. Although the workforce is currently in flux, Zappacosta cautioned the crowd not to overestimate the effects of the shift toward automation. Zappacosta said all jobs aren’t going away, but the routine ones that can be automated probably will be automated.

“The good point, and this is something that’s important, is that to date automation has not necessarily reduced the total number of jobs,” Zappacosta said.

Zappacosta feels strongly that the narrative surrounding the future of work and the gig economy is out of whack, and that the future of work is already here. More than 53 million Americans already make their living as freelancers, and that number is continuing to increase. Many of these professionals are increasingly utilizing flexible workspace environments through WeWork and taking advantage of platforms like Zenefits and Gusto to streamline back-office tasks. Zappacosta sees Thumbtack fitting into the same ecosystem by providing professionals with a better way to find more customers.

“We believe that for professionals, they should be able to focus on what they do best and we will do the rest,” he said.

Thumbtack’s larger mission is to make sure that policy is working to serve the needs of skilled professionals. Zappacosta says the company is also working to empower professionals to start their own businesses to leverage their time and talent.

“Ultimately the future of work is the skilled professional,” he said.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Photo Credit: Shana Wittenwyler

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