Electronic marketplaces: a way to tackle worklessness?

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have just published a think-piece on electronic markets (pdf, 1.09mb) by Wingham Rowan, project director of Slivers-of-Time.

The underlying premise is simple: there are plenty of people who would like to work, but can’t commit to regular hours because of family commitments or recurring medical conditions.

There are also lots of businesses which could benefit from hiring people for an hour or two at a time at short notice, without all of the overheads associated with traditional recruitment agencies.

Slivers-of-Time working is designed to connect the two using online electronic marketplaces—a sort of ‘eBay for jobs’—in a way that could help ease workless people back into the workforce and supply businesses with a flexible pool of vouchsafed, accredited labour.

The idea might sound far-fetched; there are certainly significant legislative barriers that limit its application in terms of reducing worklessness. For example, working for an hour here and there would not be financially viable for individuals if it would disqualify them for Jobseeker’s Allowance.

However, Slivers-of-Time, a social enterprise founded to promote this kind of working, has been running pilot marketplaces for several years now in several East London boroughs. They’ve already accumulated several success stories of re-integrating economically excluded people into the workforce on their own terms.

The thinkpiece (pdf, 1.09mb) gives a good overview of some of the typical objections to such systems, and Rowan’s counter-arguments. In some ways, it’s still an experimental idea, but this kind of innovative approach to the job market’s underlying infrastructure offers a new path to economic inclusion which simply hasn’t been possible before.

Online marketplaces for short-term work would be most efficient in large urban areas where there is a large pool of potential part-time workers, such as the economically excluded or university students.

So far, local authorities have also been important in terms of providing an initial market for such workers.

With its large pool of workers and large unitary authorities, the urban West Midlands could potentially benefit greatly from the use of electronic marketplaces – and now that the underlying technology has been tested, it’s a policy option which might be able to provide multiple economic benefits at minimal public expense.

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