Article: Emergence of the gig economy in the life sciences industry

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Emergence of the gig economy in the life sciences industry

While the gig economy has become an integral part of various domains like the IT and HR, the Life Sciences sector has been slow to pick it up.
Emergence of the gig economy in the life sciences industry

The word ‘gig’ once referred to a live popular or jazz music performance. However, in the context of the workforce, it now also applies to temporary work. The gig economy is an exciting and evolving business model that promises lucrative benefits for both the workforce and organizations. 

How is the life science sector responding to this industrious revolution?

While the gig economy has become an integral part of various domains like the IT and HR, the Life Sciences sector has been slow to pick it up. Every time a new drug, therapy or a device is approved by the Food and Drug Association (FDA), there is an urgent need to recruit professionals to scale up operations and to focus on getting the product to the market first. Giggers or gig workers help companies scale up or down during such instances when highly trained individuals are needed. 

Leading Pharma companies are rapidly accepting the ‘on-demand’ model of staffing. Thus, it is a shift away from the traditional pyramid-shaped staffing model with a plug-and-play, task-oriented systems that integrate the internal staff and external contributors. One of the significant changes is that a list of independent experts is maintained, which is then matched to the needs of the projects that are initiated by business. This is also true for senior talent, meeting both cost and competency needs.

How are professionals in the life sciences sector leveraging this economy?

People who find the confines of a cubicle metaphorically restrictive are stepping out to explore new options and taking up projects that interest them. Gig workers stoke their entrepreneurial streak and ‘market’ their skill among prospective ‘clients.’ And employers are responding; potentially transformative marketplaces are put forward by platforms like Youtube, Uber, Upwork, and Airbnb. The era of social platforms, that started over a decade ago, is now bearing direct fruits to organizations and businesses, while there is still immense scope of tapping this reach. More flexible schedules and greater personal autonomy is driving some highly skilled professionals to be a part of the gig workforce. Forbes estimates that by 2020 half of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers.

Medical writing and clinical trial professionals find their footing in such platforms. Moreover, research projects are now carried out by temporary research associates across continents and plying through time zones, completing projects faster and efficiently. 

Have Indians been able to adapt to this method of work?

Indians are significant contributors towards the growth of this industry. One of the most striking signs of growth in the gig economy is that the global market for independent workers is $2-3 billion, according to Truelancer, with a 14 percent annual growth rate. The Indian freelancer workforce contributes $1 billion and, although the US is ahead in the number of independent workers at 53 million, Indians are leveraging the concept with 15 million freelancers. The massive reach of the internet, digitization, and the conducive market environment facilitate this growing trend. 

Does the gig economy impact the quality of the workforce in the Life Sciences sector?

Initially, the gig workforce comprised of low-cost labor, but it now includes people with highly specialized skills. The time between projects helps such gig workers hone their skills and to upgrade their skills by enrolling in workshops and classes. Such talent empowerment may not have been possible if they worked long hours every day. Moreover, the need to get better paying projects necessitates staying abreast with the latest in the field. The fiercely competitive environment in Life Sciences creates the need for constant research and learning, with the chance to work with many different companies and projects adding to an individual’s experience.

How has the gig economy helped the Life Sciences sector become inclusive?

The Life Sciences sector involves long hours and intense periods of research that was once thought to be the playing ground of full-time professionals. However, aspects like patient recruitment for clinical trials, data filing and form submissions can now be carried out by keen individuals, including women and the differently abled. This contributes to their economic freedom and helps them contribute to the growth of the Indian economy. Hiring such gig workers has also helped in strengthening the social and talent fabric of the company. 

What do people have to watch out for in a gig economy, especially in the Life Sciences sector?

Such a workforce requires the right processes to ensure a better workstream. Some individuals are self-motivated, while others require a more structured managerial support. A case in point is the use of well-defined information systems in Uber, streamlining the process for better outcomes.  The tracking system, emergency safety button and sharing driver details are some examples of services provided by Uber to keep a check on the system. Similarly, in the life science sector, security and IP loss risks are considerable, therefore detailed background verification of a crowd worker is necessary but incur additional cost and time. The adequate technology should be in place to ensure no risk of data theft or confidentiality breach, given that the gig worker may work beyond the confines of the office space.

The current trend of hiring gig workers is poised for further growth, across specializations and experience. Highly talented professionals will continue to seek flexibility in the time they allocate for work versus pursuing other passions and interests in life. Like with other industries, in the life science industry too, the most sedulous and industrious companies will opt to hire gig workers and benefit from the flexibility they can deliver to fast-growing businesses. 

Topics: #GuestArticle, #GigToBig, Life @ Work

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