At age 33, Nicole Betts was bringing home a six-figure pay packet as an expatriate property manager in Dubai. Three years on, she’s now earning $20/hour from odd jobs like buying a businessman’s birthday present for his daughter – and loving life.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, about 1 in 5 of Australian workers were employed in casual jobs as of November.
Workers unions have warned that casual workers have little social and economic security but for some, like Betts, casual work is a lifestyle decision.
“A few years ago, I went through a quarter-life crisis, where I felt that I was existing but not living my life,” Betts told Business Insider. “I didn’t hate my life; I just didn’t love what I did.”
When she decided to leave full-time employment in 2010, Betts had spent 15 years in the real estate industry, including 3 years as an expatriate with Asteco Property Management in Dubai.
She worked an extra 6 months for a bit of a “nest egg” to go travelling and returned to Australia late last year to study environments, landscape management and medical humanities at the University of Melbourne.
“The life of an expat is very much a work hard, play hard kind of life,” Betts said. “It’s an artificial environment that was a really great experience for a while.
“It was really great to have stability and money, and it’s a very opulent lifestyle. But I don’t want to work 40-plus hours a week. I want to be able to do things that I enjoy.”
Betts pays for her rent, expenses and stress-management start-up People Outside Walking by completing odd jobs on tasks listing site Sidekicker.
She charges $29/hour – of which Sidekicker takes a $9 cut – for completing jobs like making and handing out smoothies and being a “brand ambassador” at marketing events.
A growing market for task-based work
Sites like Freelancer.com, Airtasker and Sidekicker have attracted a Australian following in recent years by offering to match up those in need of work and those in need of workers for ultra short-term tasks like administration and events.
Earlier this month, Airtasker struck a major partnership with News Corp’s CareerOne that will put Airtasker advertisements in front of some 1.3 million CareerOne job seekers a month.
The deal was initiated by CareerOne: a sign that larger players have noticed a growing market for ultra short-term work.
Jacqui Bull, who turned down an accounting job at Deloitte to co-found Sidekicker, said her site had attracted companies like retailers or event organisers that might otherwise have used temp agencies to fill vacancies during particularly busy times.
“We have a one-hour minimum, so you don’t have to go through the hassle of booking someone in for a few days. We also have a lower price point – $29 an hour is the minimum and standard, whereas temping is $38-$45,” she said.
Sidekicker interviews all the casual staff it recommends to potential employers. Of the 100 or so “sidekicks” currently active on the site, Bull said about 30% were non-Australian travellers – typically from the US or UK.
A majority of sidekicks were aged between 22 and 30, and 95% either had university degrees or were working towards them, she said.
“With the casualisation of the workforce, we kind of see [Sidekicker as] an interim source of income while [people] are focusing on getting their dream job,” she told Business Insider.
“They don’t want to settle [for a any old job], so they might need a couple of extra months’ [casual] work. So many of our sidekicks work with us for 6 months, before getting a full-time job. It’s just a natural progression.
“No one sacks an employee and gets sidekicks in; it’s an additional resource for when they don’t need a full-time person in the business but occasionally need a few extra hands on deck.”
Former property manager Betts said doing odd jobs was a temporary measure for her, while she worked on getting her start-up off the ground.
But in the long run, she said she would consider accepting the odd Sidekicker posting every once in a while,
“There are some Sidekicker jobs that I quite like and that are quite aligned to my values,” she said. “Every day is different now, and I’m constantly learning.”
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