MicroLabor, in Small Bites


Can an online microjobs market help lift up the poor?  British economist Tim Harford thinks that it is possible.  In his recent post, Harford points to an interesting new site, Slivers of Time.  Slivers is an online marketplace that aims to bring the same crowd-sourcing approach that has changed the way people fill unused space in their home (Air BnB) or fund their latest project (Kickstarter) to the least glamorous end of the British market – the poorest, least-skilled, and most excluded workers — by hosting a searchable database of short-term jobs doing things like catering, cleaning, or driving a truck, and providing profiles of pre-qualified people with the skills and time to fill those jobs.

As Harford points out, this approach is “less cute” than the “hire someone with a nice photo to pick up some dog food” approach of TaskRabbit, but arguable more important. But it’s also clear that the employment markets are changing, with an increased emphasis on flexibility and fluidity, much of which has evaded traditional, blue-collar work.  Paid work, of any amount, is one of the key stepping stones for upward mobility, and company strategic director Rowan sees social outreach as core to the ethos of the company.  There are still some regulatory hurdles in the UK, including allowing short-term employers easy access to records so that driving and criminal records can be checked instantly, but the site is starting to gain some traction with larger British employers like Tesco.  Perhaps Slivers will follow in the success of online microlenders like Kiva, this time helping people close to home, and hop the pond to the USA.