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Madi – Rethinking the labour markets: the challenges of crowdsourcing

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A commentary on Labour markets

By Maria Alejandra Madi

More recently, the internet has enabled the transformation of traditional work under Fordism, to knowledge work, characteristic of post-Fordism. In knowledge work, multi-tasking workers are integrated into flat hierarchical structures, compared to the centralized large corporation, e.g., General Motors. As a result, communication channels have been re-defined with greater involvement of lower-level employees in decision-making. Knowledge work includes new employment practices, such as time flexibility, teleworking; alternative payment schemes; along with employee empowerment and autonomy; task rotation and multi-skilling, team work and team autonomy. Potential consequences include fragmentation of work, crowdsourcing and virtualization of work.

Indeed, technological change has significantly transformed the labour market as the result of the diffusion of innovative practices at the micro-level. Crowdsourcing, for example, is the outsourcing of tasks to a large, undefined group of people in an open call. Considering this background, current challenges in working conditions are also related to the emergence of a crowd of freelancers available and able to quickly do the necessary tasks. The cloud based work environment is characterized by five essential characteristics: on-demand service; broad access; resource pooling; rapid elasticity; and measured service (Ipeirotis, 2012).

Low wages, lack of rights, unprotected jobs, increasing informality are the flip side of cloud workers. On Amazon Mechanical Turk, workers are paid between a few cents to $75/hour. In one article on these new tools, The Economist (2012) points out that crowdsourcing platforms operate under no regulation and risk driving down wages.

Crowdsourcing is fundamentally associated with the virtualization of the work. Technologies such as instant messaging, teleconferencing and video calls make it less necessary for co-workers to gather together physically, which in turn allows for the creation of virtual teams, along with teleworking, co-working and the use of social media. New technologies make teleworking easier. While for some workers, teleworking fosters a better work-life balance, it might not be suited for other workers, especially those who prefer to interact with colleagues at a physical workplace. And many teleworkers complain about their inability to set a clear dividing line between work and private life.

Another major consequence of the new trends in the labour markets is the changing conceptualization of unemployment and employment. Besides, in spite of these significant changes in the nature of work, even today most statistics and theories included in the Economics Curriculum are based on the outdated conceptualization of the prototype worker in an industrial factory setting, engaged in traditional work.

Further reading suggestions:

Ipeirotis, P. 2012. The (Unofficial) NIST Definition of Crowdsourcing.[Online]. Available:

Ouye., Joe .2011. Five Trends That Are Dramatically  Changing Work and the Workplace Knoll Workplace Research.

Howe, J. 2006. The Rise of Crowdsourcing. Wired, Vol. 14, No. 6,

The Economist. 2012. A clouded future, 13 March

[Originally posted on the WEA Pedagogy Blog, 5th November 2015.]

Commentary added 6th November 2015

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