Is tech ‘taking over’? How the online workforce shifts towards tech work
In 2021, we released the Online Labour Index 2020 (OLI 2020) which allows for new forms of analyses regarding the development of online platform work. In this blog post, we would like to offer some insights into how these features can be used based on the example of descriptive statistics pointing towards a phenomenon that we call the ‘tech shift’.
A ‘tech shift’ in the online gig workforce?
Studies on the online gig economy highlighted the relevance of online working opportunities during the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying lay-offs in the labour market [1,2]. With the update of the Online Labour Index, users are now able to explore the relative growth of specific occupations within the global online workforce before, during, and after the first economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the Online Labour Index does not provide a direct measure of labour supply in terms of globally active workers, it is still possible to observe the number of registered worker profiles for a subset of online labour platforms. Further, the OLI 2020 shows the most popular occupation for online workers per country and year. By using the slider feature, the following distributions of nationally most popular occupations can be observed in 2017 and 2022:
Work in technology and software development is growing
Comparing the popularity of occupations per country in 2017 with 2022, the countries where software development and technology work presents the most popular occupation for workers increased visibly. Globally, technology work has become the single most popular occupation represented in the Online Labour Index. Considering all 136 countries currently monitored by the OLI 2020, the number of countries with software development and tech as the most popular occupation among the online workforce increased from 29% in 2019 to 43% in 2022.
Based on the comparison of 2015 global online workforce estimates (~50 million workers)  with calculations on the size of the online workforce from our recent publication in 2021 (~163 million workers) , we assume that the population of online workers continues to steadily grow. In light of this comparison, we examine the 20 largest countries by online workforce in 2022 (March). For 13 of these 20 countries we observe that the “tech workforce” grew more than their overall online workforce, as shown in the Figure below. Values of 1 indicate that the local tech workforce has been growing at the same pace as the overall workforce over the last three years. However, for some countries differences in growth rates are quite strong, like for Serbia (3.22 times) or the UK (8.2!).
Where could the “tech shift” come from?
This observed shift to more tech work might be a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic repercussions. In our paper “Distancing Bonus or Downscaling Loss? The Changing Livelihood of US Online Workers in Times of COVID-19” , we studied the occupational shift in online mediated work during the first days of the Corona pandemic. As summarised in one of our last blog posts, we found that many occupations, such as creative and media work or sales and marketing, were adversely affected by the pandemic as organisations cut non-essential freelance contracts amidst the crisis (these occupations experience a downscaling loss).
However, the demand for projects in the software development and technology industry increased due to the indispensable nature of such work (benefiting from a distancing bonus). These findings from 2020 resonate well with the descriptive statistics presented in this blog post. It remains to be seen if the increased shift to teleworking will continue to support the “tech shift”, making the online tech workforce grow faster than the average online worker population.
 Ravenelle, A. J., Kowalski, K. C., & Janko, E. (2021). The Side Hustle Safety Net: Precarious Workers and Gig Work during COVID-19. Sociological Perspectives, 64(5), 898–919, https://doi.org/10.1177/07311214211005489
 Sawyer, S., Dunn, M., Munoz, I., Stephany, F., Raheja, R., Vaccaro, G., & Lehdonvirta, V. (2020). Freelancing online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
 Kuek, Siou Chew; Paradi-Guilford, Cecilia; Fayomi, Toks; Imaizumi, Saori; Ipeirotis, Panos; Pina, Patricia; Singh, Manpreet. (2015). The Global Opportunity in Online Outsourcing. World Bank, Washington, DC, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/22284.
 Kässi O, Lehdonvirta V and Stephany F. (2021). How many online workers are there in the world? A data-driven assessment [version 4; peer review: 4 approved]. Open Res Europe, 1:53, https://doi.org/10.12688/openreseurope.13639.4.
 Stephany, F., Dunn, M., Sawyer, S., & Lehdonvirta, V. (2020). Distancing bonus or downscaling loss? The changing livelihood of US online workers in times of COVID‐19. Tijdschrift voor economische en sociale geografie, 111(3), 561-573. https://doi.org/10.1111/tesg.12455