Gig Economy Skills, a Workshop Report

How to prove working skills for platform mediated gigs? How to make your skills contribute to the acquisition of your next gig or job? Those questions marked the workshop ‘Gig Economy Skills’.

Platform expert Martijn Arets researches on how reputation data and transaction data of gig platforms could strengthen workers’ positions on the labor market. In cooperation with six entrepreneurs and his partners, he currently develops a digital ‘CV’ called het kluspaspoort (lit. gig passport). Their goal is to make it possible for platform workers to export data on their gathered experiences and take it along in order to use this reputation data in finding new gigs through other platforms or employment otherwise.

“But, what does it actually say that you performed a certain gig?” asks Arets. “Reputation data of platform workers is rather limited. Probably, you would only know how many gigs you’ve done and how the client has rated those. To enrich the data, it would be worthwhile to automatically map skills and competences needed for certain gigs and integrate these in the digital CV.”

How would we manage to link skills to the performed gigs? And how would we be able to link those skills to the next gig or job? Those questions were central to an online workshop held on January 26th. The subject being of importance to many different organizations was underlined by a very diverse group of participants, among which were Platform entrepreneurs, employers, labor unions, researchers and public institutions who all shared their two cents.

The importance of skills and platforms for UWV (Dutch Employment Service) 

Jeroen Schuil and Frank Verduijn were the representing labor market consultants of UWV. “Skills help matching supply and demand, which makes this subject very interesting to us,” explains Verduijn. “If we are able to comprehend what someone is capable of, we will be able to match them with many more jobs. If you are a good salesman, you could just be as valuable for a shop as well as a call center.”

Schuil and Verduijn are heavily researching on labor market developments in the name of UWV WERKbedrijf. This branch of the Dutch benefits agency seeks to bring together jobseekers and employers.

What are skills?

Skills are understood as all kinds of professional competences. Ranging from technical competences (hard skills) like driving a car, sales, and cooking, to so-called soft skills like people skills, creativity and problem solving.

UWV WERKbedrijf is currently focused on jobs. Schuil hopes to be able to work more with platforms in the future. “A huge part of the jobseekers has part-time work obligations, but would gladly work more,” he states. “Meanwhile, employers are looking for people to fill the gaps during different times of the day. A platform could help us match those two groups. And when we will be able to translate the experience workers acquire during their gigs into skills, which we are then able to match other jobs; we will have come full circle.”

UWV and TNO develop a self-learning system

UWV cooperates with the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) and TNO in an attempt to build a so-called ‘skills-ontology’: a self-learning system to better match supply and demand in the labor market. A similar system, by the name CompetentBE, which links skills to jobs, is already in place in Belgium. Based on this idea, these three parties are working on a Dutch version dubbed CompetentNL.

How will this system be used? According to TNO researcher Joost van Genabeek, skills are a much more informative indicator than diplomas and work experience. “The work experience of a salesman at a multinational differs greatly from the experience of a salesman at a local business,” he clarifies. “An educational degree is bound to show outdated information as soon as you develop in your professional career.”

Task descriptions and job ads could also include more knowledge and skill based information, he argues. “Picturing someone’s career in terms of skills has countless benefits. Skills communicate much more detail in terms of what would be needed to perform certain tasks. To you as a worker, it would be much clearer which skills you need to develop to keep up with the labor market.”

Never ready

“We describe jobs and visualize similarities between jobs”, adds UWV expert Verduijn. “When we are able to signal overlap between jobs, it becomes easier to retrain jobseekers or even mobilize them to take on a seemingly very different job, that still uses many of the same skills.”

“CompetentNL should become a smart, self-learning system,” emphasizes UWV advisor Schuil. “Jobs, functions, competences, and all their mutual relationships keep changing; it is a never ending story,” he explains. “Moreover, a manager at a supermarket has a different skillset from a manager of a publishing house. There is a certain overlap, but I wouldn’t want to deploy these two persons in each other’s job.”

Research

The fact that jobs, job ads and the need for certain competences are constantly changing is also apparent in research by Flemish software company Actonomy (2018). Read more about that in their Dutch report ‘Wijzigingen in jobs, vacatures en vaardigheden’.

Skills passport

CompetentNL should be finished within three years, as the systems should also be the foundation for another TNO project: ‘skills passport’. This is an alternative CV, which isn’t based on education, degrees and work experience, but only on what somebody has proven to be capable of. “The idea is that a worker receives his own ‘locker’ with his skills, work experience and diplomas,” tells Van Genabeek. “One would be able to specifically share his credentials with potential employers.”

TNO partners with Rabobank, among others, mainly because the bank has already been working on a similar project: the so-called ‘Career Wallet’. This blockchain app has the same goal as the skills passport, i.e. contributing to labor mobility of the employed in the Netherlands. Van Genabeek, “It is practical to join in with existing development. Moreover, Rabobank wants to continue development. They recognize the importance of a passport based on skills instead of jobs.”

Moving from Skills to a Career

The difficulty of matching skills to jobs was also recognized by Christoph Bretgeld of SkillLab. His team started building software that translates ‘skills to career’ in 2018. “We set out to translate the skills of refugees in Europe,” he tells. “They have a hard time finding work, especially because their diplomas are not congruent with ours and, secondly, because they have no European work experience to show for their capabilities. How do their competences relate to Dutch jobs? If you understand someone’s skills, you will be able to make a much better link with the work that needs to be done.”

SkillLab establishes a ‘skill profile’ based on experiences in the past. Not only job experience should be considered, but also short gigs, informal care and hobbies. The system could very well be suitable for the platform economy.

“People have a natural difficulty identifying their skills,” says Bretgeld. “We are prone to think that a certain experience isn’t relevant, because it wasn’t paid for or because it happened too long ago. We are building an app to discern someone’s skills based on an interview. This way we create a complete CV, which can be matched with countless tasks and jobs by means of artificial intelligence.”

Read between the lines

“In order to make a solid match between job ads and jobseekers, one has to read between the lines,” mentions Filip De Geijter, CEO of Flemish software developer Actonomy. Actonomy’s software analyses profiles and translates that to terms found in job ads. “Job ads and CVs are hardly a match. Who would write in his application letter about his experience with ‘the follow up on clients’?”

Besides, the software adds information the candidate hasn’t mentioned, but which the system deducts from the text. “For example, we know that a service technician has skills that are fit to other jobs,” tells De Geijter. “Based on its analysis, the system discovers when you are able to do A, you will be able to do B too. The continuous analysis of job ads and profiles of candidates teaches our system the deeper meaning of words. On top of that, the software is able to relate different job types with one another.”

This is how Actonomy helps solve the mismatch between supply and demand. Recruiters like Adecco, Accent and Job Leads are using the software. De Geijter, “This technology is also able to analyze task descriptions on gig platforms.”

I can ride a bicycle; can I take part in the Tour de France? 

“Linking skills to tasks, is a job half-done,” says Bas van de Haterd. He is an advisor on the influence of technology on work. “Implicated in the currently developing technology is the fact that a skill is 0 or 1; you are either able or unable to do something. The world doesn’t work that way. I can drive a bicycle, but that does not mean that I can take part in the Tour de France.”

So, the fact you did something, does not directly imply that you are good at it. Van de Haterd, “Everyone recognizes that suspicious feeling about a certain coworker, when wondering how in the world he would have gotten that job. Even the time you have spent doing the same job does not imply anything about how good you are at it either. If that would be the case, my 25 years of driving experience would make me a better Formula One driver than Max Verstappen.”

Ratings of platforms

Ratings on platforms are therefore very interesting. “They do not only speak about someone doing something, but also include how well he did it,” the technology advisor explains. Taking freelance platform Upwork as an example, he illustrates that users are reviewed on their trustworthiness, quality and communication.

“Those kinds of platform skills are surely usable in showing that you are fit for other tasks too,” he continues. “It doesn’t really matter whether you received positive reviews on your communication skills as IT-consultant, babysitter or taxi driver. It would be beneficial for the IT professional to take his reviews along, if he would like to go babysitting once in a while. That is, if he scores at least decently.”

Van Genabeek of TNO still finds it an interesting thought. “How good you are in certain skill is indeed not yet integrated in the system we are developing,” he admits. “In my opinion, it would be a nice innovation to have the system process ratings of gig platforms as well. That way we could indeed show level differences.”

Conclusion

During the meeting it became clear that rating and review systems of platforms could provide great value, concludes Martijn Arets. “Especially the massive amount of gigs in combination with the ratings does say something about quality. This is only becoming more and more relevant, even for these platforms themselves. When you are able to detect skills in reviews and task descriptions, it will become easier to match supply and demand.”

Platforms are the ideal partners to engage with for such a skills passport, Arets stretches. “Mostly because they have a digital-first mindset and are already focused on data and automation. Secondly, they are able to make the problem comprehensible. There is no need for them to map the entire labor market as they set out in their own niche markets and expand to other industries accordingly. And finally, compared to traditional job brokers, platform entrepreneurs think along lines of facilitation instead of ownership of data and candidates.”

Arets emphasizes that platforms need innovation. “These digital CVs are cost-effective, especially where platforms are matching workers to short term gigs”, he explains. “It is perfectly natural for a recruiter to have a job interview or two with a new manager who should lead a substantial change in their organization. But when hiring someone for one short gig, such a job interview would be way too expensive and time-consuming. Automation could solve that problem. A gig passport based on skills would be beneficial for both the labor market as well as individual platforms.”

About this research:

This workshop is part of a research on how reputation scores could sustainably be guaranteed on platforms matching labor supply and demand. By strongly focusing on the development of practical, relevant advice, this research contributes to the maturing of the platform market and the empowerment of the position of contractors using platforms for their work. This research is an initiative of Martijn Arets and is supported by: UWV, FNV, YoungOnes, Seats2Meet, Freshheads, the Swedish Employment Service, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate and the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI). More information is available on www.kluspaspoort.nl.