Digitalization and the increasing connectivity across the globe have capacitated the emergence of an online labour market. A number of platforms now facilitate transactions between employers and employees, often based in very separate locations. These platforms cater for a variety of job types, ranging from simple tasks to complex projects and services and are estimated to provide employment to tens of millions of workers.
A new OII project iLabour studies the online gig economy and has recently launched an index measuring the utilization of online labour platforms (Kässi and Lehdonvirta, 2016). The Online Labour Index (OLI) is based on tracking all projects and tasks posted into a selected sample of platforms, using API access and web scraping.
Given our interest in digitalization in Sub-Saharan Africa, Mark Graham and I together with the colleagues from iLabour were interested in mapping out the availability of online labour across the world. Using a sample of data from September 19 to October 9, 2016, we calculated the number of open vacancies as a proportion of the global online labour market for each country that offers employment on the platforms that the OLI measures.
The map illustrating the availability of online work shows stark patterns of clustered labour supply. No vacancies are posted from within the majority of the African countries, while the vacancies posted from the rest of the continent fall below 0.3 percent for each country, except for South Africa, and Egypt, whose online labor market measures 0.5 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively, of the global online labor market. The bulk of the labour supply is situated in just a handful of countries with the United States hosting over half of the vacancies at 51 percent of the global total, while smaller shares are supplied by India at 6.5 percent, United Kingdom at 6.5 percent, Australia at 5.4 percent, and Canada at 5.2 percent.
In order to put these proportions into a different perspective, we also mapped the online labour ratios against the ratios of each country’s share of the total global population and GDP.
Looking at the share of open vacancies in the global market as a proportion of the share of global population reveals a different pattern about the availability of online work. A proportion of 100 percent would indicate the a country’s slice of the online labour market and global population are equal, while numbers lower than that indicate a larger relative share of the population and numbers above 100 percent indicate a larger relative share of the online labour market. While the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada have a larger share of the online labour market relative to their share of the population, various other European countries as well as a few countries in the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America do so as well, especially where the countries have very small populations. Despite having the second largest share of the online labour market after the United States, the populous India has an even larger share of the global population. Sub-Saharan African countries have substantially larger shares of population relative to the size of the online labour market. To couple this map with another standardizing measure, we then mapped the share of online labour market with the share of GDP.
Looking at the share of open vacancies in the global market as a proportion of the share of global wealth reveals yet a different pattern about the availability of online work. A proportion of 100 percent would indicate the a country’s slice of the online labour market and global GDP are equal, while numbers lower than that indicate a larger relative share of global wealth and numbers above 100 percent indicate a larger relative share of the online labour market. The countries belonging to the latter group now include countries from all continents, together with various Sub-Saharan African countries. The European countries on the other hand have larger shares of the global GDP. These figures are largely determined by the smaller shares of the global total GDP attained by the global south and on the other hand by the sizeable GDP figures in the global north.
While increasing connectivity and digitization offer new economic opportunities through online labour platforms, the transformative effect of these opportunities does not seem to meet the high expectations of governments and donor organizations working in Sub-Saharan Africa (Friederici et al, 2017). Having mapped the OLI data we see that the continent posts very few vacancies for tasks that can be carried out online. However, a large part of the continent’s involvement in the online labour market takes place on the employee side, rather than through recruiting labour (Lehdonvirta et al, 2014). The OLI data is currently limited to measuring vacancies, but the team is looking to launch an extension measuring the demand across the same platforms in the near future. We expect the new data to portray a more active involvement from Sub-Saharan Africa and look forward to evaluating whether these digital opportunities meet the enthusiastic expectations of the African donors and policy-makers.
Friederici, Nicolas and Ojanperä, Sanna and Graham, Mark, The Impact of Connectivity in Africa: Grand Visions and the Mirage of Inclusive Digital Development (October 13, 2016). Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries. (in press).
Kässi, O. & Lehdonvirta, V. (2016) Online Labour Index: Measuring the Online Gig Economy for Policy and Research. Paper presented at Internet, Politics & Policy 2016,22-23 September, Oxford, UK. http://ilabour.oii.ox.ac.uk/online-labour-index/
Lehdonvirta, V., Barnard, H., Graham, M., and Hjorth, I. (2014) Online labour markets – levelling the playing field for international service markets? Paper presented at the IPP2014: Crowdsourcing for Politics and Policy conference, University of Oxford, 25-26 September 2014.