Ask most people to describe Uber and the typical response is that it’s an iPhone app that connects people who want to get somewhere to on-demand drivers. It’s a modernized and convenient taxi service made possible by new technology (i.e. smartphones, analytics, etc.) and drivers with flexibility.
Ask Uber what they think of themselves and they will tell you that they are a logistics company seeking to disrupt how people, goods, and just about anything gets moved from point A to point B. Their app is just the tip of the iceberg. Need proof? Yesterday, Uber announced that it will open a robotics research facility to build self-driving cars. How can they do that? Well, they have sales of $1 billion and a valuation of $40 billion.
So if you’re a taxi driver, you’re worried. And there have been legitimate protests. But what about other professions? We’re ok, right? Well, it depends.
The Economist just published an article about the On-Demand Economy. Essentially, companies like Uber are changing the nature of work, not just for taxi drivers, but for many professions such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants. Technology and changing social habits are giving rise to freelance workers available at a moment’s notice, much like Uber drivers.
These changes will reshape the nature of companies and the structure of careers. How? For one there will be more freelance workers. The Economist estimates there are already 53 million in the U.S. – and the number is growing. While those who value flexibility in work may benefit from this trend, many will not have access to benefits typically enjoyed by full-time workers such as pensions and sick leave (though they can now get affordable healthcare). That has to change with new labor laws and regulations that ensure all workers have access to resources and opportunities.
Secondly, it will become more important for professionals to master multiple skills and to take more responsibility for their professional development and learning. We all have to make a life-long investment in learning. Those with in-demand skill sets, the ability to adapt, and the know-how to market themselves will be at an advantage. Career paths will also become more varied and diverse.
So there are two conversations that should be taking place. First, on a broader level, how should we as a society support the growing number of freelancers and contractors? Secondly, on an individual level, how can I as professional stay up to date with my skills?
Companies like Uber are not going away. As with all change, there are trade-offs, winners and losers, and no easy answers. Just ask any DC taxi driver today…or your Uber driver.