GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The pandemic touched so many aspects of our daily lives.
The workforce also saw many changes, including the types of jobs people are doing.
MASSIVE GIG WORK GROWTH, FUTURE CHALLENGES
Research published by the University of Chicago this year found that the platform gig economy — platforms like Uber or DoorDash — grew by 3 million people, or by 150%, between 2019 and 2021.
Researchers pulled tax data to examine platform gig work between 2012 and 2021. In 2021, there were 4.9 million platform gig workers, the research found. A sum of 4.5 million of those were working in transportation or delivery. Four years prior, in 2017, there were only 1.4 million platform gig workers and 1.2 million working in transportation or delivery.
The pandemic drove a large push into platform gig work. Many workers in industries like accommodation and food service, hit hard by the pandemic, joined the platforms in 2020.
Other types of gig work saw a decline during COVID-19.
Economics expert Paul Isely, an associate dean at Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business, told News 8 gig work is now seeing some challenges.
“Gig work is neat. It gives you control. But on the other hand, if you have that control, you also don’t have the safety nets that you have of being an employee, and depending on where you are in your life, that can make a big difference,” Isely said.
He said people’s pay is increasing “pretty rapidly,” alleviating the need for some to work a gig as a second job. There’s also movement to regulate the industry more.
“We’re seeing a lot of regulatory pressures on gig employment,” Isely said, explaining possible regulations would make companies treat workers like employees instead of independent contractors. “If you have to treat someone like an employee, then you can’t give them the freedom that the gig work had.”
Andy Johnston, senior vice president of advocacy and strategic engagement for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber is fighting such regulation and policy proposals in Lansing.
“There’s legislation that would severely limit the freedom of independent contractors. So we’re trying at the Chamber to protect that option for people,” Johnston said.
Johnston said workers should have the freedom to choose the way they want to work.
SHRINKING RETAIL; GROWING AMAZON
While platform gig work thrived during the pandemic, retail saw a dramatic drop in workers. In 2017, the number of retail workers grew to 15.8 million, a peak since the great recession, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, before it started to decline. In 2020, the industry lost 800,000 jobs, a dramatic drop compared to the 200,000 jobs lost between 2017 and 2019.
The retail workforce is expected to continue to shrink through 2030, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating another drop of 587,00 jobs over this decade. In 2010, 10.2% of employment was made up by jobs in the retail trade sector. That number dropped to 9.7% in 2020 and is expected to drop even further to 8.6% in 2030. The expected decline is spurred by a growing e-commerce industry — delivery giant Amazon reported record sales on Prime Day this past July — and growing technology.
“The pandemic both reinforced and accelerated technological changes in the retail sector that were hurting retail employment and are expected to persist going forward,” a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. “As a result, retailers are expected to make further investments in automation, resulting in faster productivity growth over the 2020–30 decade.”
Companies like Amazon are leading to different types of jobs.
“The retail-type jobs have been shrinking, their pay hasn’t been increasing as much,” Isely said. “But now we have fulfillment centers and we have things like that. It’s a different skill set.”
AI AND THE FUTURE
Isely said moving forward, there will likely be more manual jobs that can’t be replaced by technology. Jobs that are narrow are more susceptible to be replaced as technology — and artificial intelligence — progresses.
But as we move into that world, he said, new jobs will be created.
“The way we’re doing business now and the jobs that we see today are going to be much different five years from now,” he said. “A worker has to be prepared to completely change how they’re doing things, they have to be able to train all the way through their job now, as opposed to learning a set of skills and that being good enough for the next 30 years.”
Johnston said that’s the “beauty of the free market.”
“We get that kind of creative destruction,” he said, adding that Ford’s Model T was bad for buggy whip manufacturers. “We’ll figure out where we need to change and how the market will change in response to new technology. But I think it’s all to the good. Innovation … tends to lead to higher living standards, higher quality of life, more wealth creation.”
News 8 is exploring how the pandemic impacted the workforce throughout the week of Labor Day. Check back Tuesday to read about how employers and employees are approaching mental health in the workforce.