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Gig work platforms see uptick in interest due to COVID-19

The gig work model may expand into jobs occupied by full- and part-time workers. It is helping one HR manager in an industry where hiring has become difficult because of COVID-19.

Gig work is usually associated with ride-sharing, assisting with household tasks and package, food and grocery delivery. But the gig model is also being used to fill work shifts typically occupied by part- or full-time workers, something Classic Hotels & Resorts is doing. 

Classic Hotels, a Phoenix-based firm that operates about 14 properties in Arizona and California, fills restaurant jobs through the gig work platform Qwick Inc.

Qwick's model is similar to other gig- and app-based businesses. The workers operate as independent contractors, filing 1099 tax forms. Employers use an app to schedule jobs and submit feedback for each worker. 

Analysts don't expect gig work to permanently replace jobs typically filled by part-time and full-time staff. But COVID-19 has disrupted hiring markets, and the gig work model has been working, according to Nancy Silver, vice president of organizational development at Classic Hotels.

It's been a struggle to fill staff positions, Silver said, citing the impact the pandemic has had on the food and hospitality industries. There is "a huge gap in labor when it comes to the number of people who have returned to our industry," she said.

"There aren't enough full-time hospitality people to go around," Silver said. 

Gig work expands

U.S. Dept of Labor data underscores Silver's assessment. In October, the quit rate in the accommodation and food services sector was 6%, a little more than double the overall quit rate for all industries. 

Qwick fills jobs such as prep cooks, dishwashers, bussers, banquet setups and bartenders for special events. It doesn't place people in positions such as waitstaff where specialized menu knowledge is needed. 

There aren't enough full-time hospitality people to go around.
Nancy SilverVice president of organizational development, Classic Hotels & Resorts

Silver said the platform is meeting her expectations. "It's extremely rare when a position doesn't get filled," Silver said of Qwick.

David Johnson, an analyst at Forrester Research, said gig work platforms like Qwick will see an increase in interest because of the impact COVID-19 has had on the labor market. 

"I think anybody who's trying to source people to do these jobs is looking at any source that they can; they're looking at all options," he said. 

But Johnson sees this type of shift-filling strategy as an option for meeting labor demand peaks rather than replacing regular staff.

If it were easier to fill full- and part-time positions, Silver said she would use Qwick less. "But we will also have a need for a company like Qwick" to meet peak demands, she said. 

The market grows

A longtime HR analyst, Josh Bersin, believes firms like Qwick "are a huge trend." 

"Imagine a Qwick for plumbers, refrigerator repair people, electricians," Bersin said. "I am sure this is where the marketplace is going." 

"The need for temporary support has grown tremendously," said Matthew Merker, a research manager at IDC. But "if the labor market reverts to a more traditional model after the dust settles, the demand for the stability of permanent hires will outweigh the need for gig workers."

Classic Hotels' Silver said she has hired staff who began as Qwick workers and stayed on with Qwick to continue picking up shifts through the app as needed.

Qwick vets and assesses skills of workers who use its platform for jobs. It appeals to people who want more control over their schedules rather than being subjected to the scheduling constraints of employers. 

The idea that workers are using gig work to supplement incomes is supported in a just-released study by the Pew Research Center. It said it found that 68% of gig workers are using it to find a "side job," with the balance of respondents stating they consider gig work as their main job.

An employer may demand full-time availability for a 30-hour-per-week job, making it hard for a person to plan their life outside of the job, said Jamie Baxter, Qwick's CEO. The firm, founded in 2017, now operates in 12 cities. 

To succeed, Qwick contractors need to maintain a high score. It tracks 15 different metrics, such as clocking in on time, confirming a shift ahead of time and frequency of shift cancellation, to generate a "Qwick score." It's the quality of the work and not the amount of time that people work that drives the score, according to Baxter.

Qwick starts with its highest score earners to fill a position and then proceeds down the list. Someone who is scoring low will receive recommendations on how to improve their score. Baxter said employers can also ask for the same person to fill a spot. 

Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

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