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The Future of Work

by
La Donna Lokey
Jul 3, 2013, 6:45 am ET

gigwalk_logoImagine a world without resumes. For some recruiters, it sounds like a dream; for others, a nightmare that would make it impossible to find people qualified to do the work.

Admittedly, we’re not there yet. But maybe we’re not as far away as we think.

A host of new apps for iPhone and Android have quietly begun changing the way work is done, and, like Google, they don’t care about your G.P.A., your transcripts, or your ability to answer brain teaser questions.

Most of us have heard of sites like Elance, Odesk, and places like Yahoo Contributor Network where freelancers can make money for their talents in writing, coding, graphic design. But a new wave of apps for iPhone and Android, including Gigwalk, Field Agent, and iPoll, are taking that premise a step beyond, parsing out work in the form of paid tasks, where your ability to complete the task is the only requirement.

Perhaps this “work revolution” began long ago, when Amazon launched Mechanical Turk, branded as “Artificial Artificial Intelligence.” Kevin Wheeler wrote about this last year, but for the uninitiated, Mturk facilitates the crowdsourcing of work such as transcription, translation, and sorting or categorization that cannot yet be done well using machines. Global virtual workers can sign up for HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks) for payments ranging from roughly $.01 – $60 per assignment. Higher-paying work includes audio/video transcription, but there are also thousands of lower paying quick HITs available.

By taking tests, showing attention to detail, and completing projects successfully, virtual workers can earn qualifications which open up higher=paying assignments and more regular work.  (Wait a sec, isn’t that what we do in the work world already? Yes, but it’s all automated.)

Why does it matter? With our traditional system of employment, potentially vital segments of the workforce face constant challenges, discrimination, and rampant unemployment. Stay-at-home mothers and fathers, those with disabilities or unstable health conditions, and even college students or part-time workers often have schedules that allow for some type of productive work, but often on a non-traditional schedule. By allowing workers to select tasks, choose when to complete them (within a set period of time), and offering regular opportunities for earning, this work transformation is also contributing to a better economy and allowing a whole new segment of the workforce to earn income.

So what kind of work can be done with these apps, and how’s the pay? It’s doubtful than anyone will soon be quitting their day jobs to do these tasks. But it’s not entirely impossible to envision a way to beat out a typical minimum wage job with enough assignments. Gigwalk, started by three former Yahoo employees, uses your phone’s GPS to track mobile users completing tasks around town. Here in Phoenix, Microsoft’s Bing search engine has lots of gigs available, requiring workers to go to specific businesses, take panoramic pictures, and answer a few questions for amounts ranging from $4 – 10 each. Some gigs are location-independent. For example, a company called TigerWorld Technologies out of Beijing has been regularly posting voice-recording Gigs paying $18 each.

In Field Agent, workers can go on “Scavenger Hunts” at major retailers, searching for specific product items and answering questions. Field Agent offered $6.50 for the first person to find a Fiesta Cheese Blend with a specific UPC at any Walmart store. Other agent jobs include restocking shelves and arranging displays at major retailers, or attending or verifying product demonstrations.  Recent jobs included tasks at places like Ulta, Walgreens, and Sam’s Club. Many of us already go to these places, and the apps can be enabled to notify users of nearby tasks to complete.

iPoll sets itself apart in paid surveys, where users answer questions about their buying habits and, based on these answers, they can earn additional tasks. For example, a questionnaire on grocery shopping might lead to a task for completion at a nearby grocery store. If iPoll takes this a step further and expands its reach, one could easily see it move into consumer marketing focus groups and product testing.

A quick Google search for “apps to make money” pulled up dozens of other opportunities for mobile users to pad their wallets or pay for their next Starbucks. One such app, GymPact, proposes a healthier lifestyle while giving users a financial incentive to hit the gym. Users set a workout schedule for the next seven days, pledging anywhere from $5-50 per missed workout. Those who skip, pay up, and these funds are divided amongst those who keep to their workout commitments. Getting paid to workout? Maybe not a work revolution yet, but it might just get me back on the treadmill. Resumes are sooo 2012.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Keith Halperin

    Thanks, La Donna. This is interesting.
    We don’t need apps that allow folks do more spotty, un-benefited, low-paid work- we need apps that let millions of Americans to get FT, benefitted, $40,000-$60,000/yr jobs- the kind of jobs that AREN’T being created/coming back in substantial numbers….

    -KH

  2. LaDonna Lokey

    Keith, if the “work assignment” model is successful, perhaps it will later be able to facilitate the kind of higher paying work you mention. If Tom Peters was right about reinventing work–that we are essentially all now working on projects rather than 20 year employees for big corporations, could these types of new work arrangements be a catalyst for that change to scale? I don’t know, but I’d like to think what we’re seeing is only the beginning!

  3. Mona Berberich

    Thank you for the interesting article La Donna!
    @Keith I absolutely agree with you! We need a technology (apps if you want) that connects people to higher paid, benefitted jobs. And here is why I see the problem with those apps. In my opinion, we need a balance between skills and personal assessment in order to recruit “good” people for the “right” environment to successfully match them in the long run. The danger with apps like this is that they might just increase the number of low paid, irregular types of jobs and decrease the higher paid, benefitted ones that we need in the long run.
    Cheers!

  4. Gail Fletcher

    Can direct me to any quantitative sources for the participation rates of workers in these alternatives over time?

  5. Keith Halperin

    Thanks LaDonna and Mona. ISTM that anything which allows the components of work to be be broken up and commoditized into low-touch, low-value add components allows it to be “transourced”- no sourced (eliminated), through-sourced (automated), or out-sourced (sent away) for much less cost than American minimum wage. Why have Americans do this kind of grunt work if you can get Filipinos, Bangladeshis, or Vietnamese to do it for 1/8 the cost? I fear we are moving toward a society where *a decreasing minority of people have FT, well-paid, benefited jobs, and more and more people have low paid, irregular types that Mona mentioned.

    Keith

    *And the bar to have a job like that gets higher and higher- i.e., more and more expensive.

  6. Jacque Vilet

    Fabulous article LaDonna. You probably already know this but look at Innocentive website. People can look at the “problem” board and compete to provide solutions for X$. Yes, this may be the way of the future of work. But I think there are problems with this that no one has thought about.

  7. LaDonna Lokey

    Gail, I don’t know how much data there would be on many of these services – most are new, created in the past year or two with the rise of mobile. Amazon probably has some data about Mturk somewhere, but whether they’d be willing to share or publish it is another matter.

  8. LaDonna Lokey

    Thanks, Jacque. I hadn’t heard of Innocentive, but it looks similar to Xprize, which also offers incentives for innovation. Both of these are answers to the arguments about this work being all low paying–as businesses explore the possibilities, we will see more “big ticket” work available. I agree that there are problems with task-based work – especially as it relates to minimum wage laws. I’m sure there will be some legal challenges ahead for the pioneers in this space–not just in the U.S., but globally. But when the dust settles, I still believe that we’re witnessing a fundamental change in work where formal education and resumes may start to take a back seat to skills testing, work portfolios, and other types of earned credentials based on reputation, reliability, work quality, etc. It’s an interesting time to be alive!

  9. Jacque Vilet

    Agree LaDonna. If you look at some of the problems that are seeking solutions the money is not “chump change”. And these are not “What should I pay as minimum wage in California?”. These are highly technical issues — all geared to high tech, bio-tech, etc. So — the minimum wage thing is not the norm. It’s not offshoring. It’s trying to get innovative solutions for problems from the best experts globally. Not many people have heard about this yet —- but as it grows it should be a big deal.

    Sort of like the MOOCs —- they get the best teachers in the world. Profs can be pulled wherever to teach courses.
    And glad to see ANYTHING compete with the “old school” issue that a college degree is everything. “It’s what you DO with what you have, not what you HAVE that counts”. MOOCs and other certifications and a portfolio of project were successfully designed/implemented will be used in the future.

    When I say problems — look at the example (exaggerated to make a point) of HR — most of the problems/questions are posted for expert solutions. HR won’t need “centers of excellence” anymore. The skills needed by HR will be project management, vendor relations, etc. With solutions coming at management from all sides it will be difficult to coordinate and (a big one) integrate all of them. If you have 20 experts giving their best solutions —- if all are implemented you may end up with a “horse” looking like a “camel”. See what I mean?

    Interesting times we live in. My favorite quote: “It’s the best possible time to be alive when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong”.

  10. Keith Halperin

    @ Jacque. @ LaDona: All virtual work is neither low-paid nor simple. High-touch, high value add work that can be done virtually will still demand a premium. However, more and more quality work can be done for a lot less than Western countries wages.

    As far as MOOCS- a university degree has little to do with the actual acquired knowledge; it deals with what level of company will hire you for the university you’ve attended. I’ll believe MOOCs will make big impacts when we start seeing significant numbers of Employers of Choice (EOCs) hiring lots of people (both technical and non-technical) at the same salaries they hire hire Ivy-League grads.

    In an ideal world, companies and workers would use these new tools for mutual benefit. In the real world, we have a very unequal power situation, with companies dominated by the GAFI Principles (Greed ,Arrogance, Fear, and Ignorance/Incompetence) calling the shots in the great majority of situations. I’m afraid while these new tools, techniques, etc. will allow new freedom and opportunity for a few, it will lead to more insecurity and inequality for the many.

    Keith “Hope I’m Wrong” Halperin

  11. Jacque Vilet

    Keith —- a lot of “forward-looking” high tech companies are already X’ing university name, degree type, GPA from their hiring criteria. Why? Universities are out-of-touch with the real world. Google no longer considers degrees very important. They are much more focused on the skills/achievements a person has. So as the saying goes “It’s what you DO with what you’ve got, not what you’ve HAVE that counts”.

    That’s why I say MOOCs and the like will gain acceptance. Why not? They are courses that are taught by respected professors on skills — not theory relevant 100 years ago.

  12. Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Jacque. As I said on 6/24:
    1) What kept them (Google) so long from acknowledging this, when it’s been known for years?
    2) How do they know they (and any other company that did similar things) aren’t doing similarly mistaken and wasteful practices right now?
    4) Doesn’t this implicitly say that their success has been despite (as opposed to because of) the way they hire?
    4) What about all the companies that have (mistakenly) emulated these erroneous practices?
    5) What about the tens or hundreds of thousands of qualified
    people they’ve rejected for erroneous reasons?

    ……………………………………….

    I haven’t heard that large numbers of companies are ignoring their applicants’ universities attended and/or their GPAs, that tuitions and fees are rapidly falling at unies because MOOC certificates are undercutting their value so much that people aren’t willing to spend $250k+ for an Ivy League degree and that parents and students are no longer worried about debt because their kids can get a cheap and valuable MOOC Certificate which will be their gold-ticket to the middle class,or that elite unies are cancelling their job fairs because so few decent companies were attending? Did I go all “Rip Van Winkle” and this is actually 2043?

    Of course higher ed is a big racket- most jobs really don’t need 4 years of academic preparation to do. However, having an increasingly expensive bar to entry (as we had before the GI Bill and have been getting again for the past decade or so) is a very good way for those at the top to stay at the top by making sure the way up is very narrow and not based on merit but on wealth and power… My point is this: the broad diffusion of skills and knowledge is a good thing in-and-of itself- increased literacy and knowledge are VERY good things. I just don’t think that the things mentioned in this article will help scores of millions of anxious and struggling people in the developed world improve their economic security and standards of living.(It should REALLY help folks in the developing world, though…)

    Cheers,
    Keith

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