Cate Bryant recalls being as nervous as hell even thinking about giving up a cushy number as a marketing executive to go solo.

But working fulltime in the corporate world just wasn't cutting it any more. She wanted to make better use of her time and skills.

Seven years ago, the mum-of-two, from Devonport, Auckland, took the plunge.

She packed in her regular job and started taking on short-term freelance contracts - or "gigs" as she calls them - with some of new Zealand's best-known companies.


She advises The Warehouse, Vodafone, Rodd & Gunn and State Insurance on how to get the best from their online shopping operations.

"After being in a corporate role, not being part of an established team was very disconcerting," she says.

"But by taking on contracts of between 6 and 18 months at different places I found I was being adopted by a number of different teams.

"At each job I get a whole new bunch of playmates and sometimes a five-day gig turns into a year."

The arrangement suits her. Bryant has no direct boss to report to, gets more time with her young family - and can work from an office, home, car, cafe or library if needed.

The flexible hours have also allowed her to set up a venture called Click Monday, which runs two online sales a year offering products from leading retail brands.

"If I had a full-time job I would never have had the time or the energy to do that," she explains.

"I am now doing stuff that has much more satisfying results."


She says the financial rewards are better too as she can charge premium rates for her time and expertise. She has also now recruited two other people to handle short-term contracts.

Bryant is one of a growing number of New Zealanders who are working in the "gig economy".

There was a time when only rock stars and performers did gigs. Now, around the world, workers are giving up traditional, permanent employments in favour of taking contracts from different companies and fitting work in when they want it.

It gives the workers more flexibility and, if their skills are in demand, sometimes more pay.

Businesses get the benefit of accessing the skills they need when they need them, without having to take on the ongoing cost of permanent employees. The trend took off in earnest when technology made it easier.

Start-ups like Uber now deliver via app everything from drivers to flowers, groceries and someone to clean your house. Most of the people who provide those services are contractors.

Artists can now quickly sell their work via sites such as Etsy and those who want to dabble in hospitality can set themselves up as part-time hoteliers via Airbnb. Sites such as Freelancer allow graphic designers, copy writers and web developers to bid for projects.

In the US, the issue is already political. Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has said the rise of the "on-demand" economy is raising questions about what workplace protections and a good job will look like for workers of the future.

In New Zealand, Labour MP David Parker's contractor wage bill has just passed its first reading. It would require contractors to be paid no less than minimum wage.

It is hard to get a clear idea of the number of people choosing the contracting life.

In 2013, 192,000 people were on casual employment contracts. Of those, almost half were on contracts with no set term. Another 29.4 per cent were in fixed-term casual contracts, 13.6 per cent were doing seasonal work and 17.6 per cent were temping.

Contract work was most prevalent among young workers (21 per cent) and those over 65 (13.5 per cent).

Professor Paul Spoonley, of Massey University's College of Humanities and Social Sciences, has watched the trend develop and says it is rapidly becoming more common.

Technology has given it the impetus to really take off, he says, making contracting work more attractive for those doing the work and those offering it.

How much of a benefit it is to workers depends on the type of work they are doing, he says. Contract work is becoming most common in the higher-skill and lower-skill bands of employees, and technology is stripping out the mid-range.

"The big growth in a place like Auckland is in retail and accommodation. That's the area that's growing in new jobs and a lot of that is short-term contracts," he says.

Because the model allows employers to only hire staff when they need them, he says the risk to low-wage employees is that there will be long periods of down time.

But highly skilled workers with an in-demand area of expertise could make a lot of money and enviable benefits.

"It gives a lot of discretion over how you use your time. You could get well paid and then go skiing when you want.

"This is the new normal. A lot of people think they will have a nine-to-five job they will spend their whole life doing but that is no longer the case for most people. I don't think people understand how big a shift it is."

Research from PwC indicates a skill shortage is driving much of the change for the highest-qualified parts of the workforce.

The accounting giant surveyed New Zealand chief executives and found 84 per cent felt the availability of key skills was a threat to their organisation's growth prospects.

They were looking to part-time employees, contingent workers and outsourcing to fill the gaps.

PwC partner and business adviser Scott Mitchell says that is creating an environment where those with the most in-demand skills dictate where and when they want to work and, crucially, who they want to work for.

"People with strong technology skills that can adapt and work across different industries are desperately needed, but these people are difficult to find and can afford to charge a premium for their skills. New places, geographies and new pools of talent must be looked at - organisations can't afford to recruit people as they've always done," he says.

Mitchell urged New Zealand businesses to realise they will have to try different methods to tap into the pool of sought-after skilled workers.

"You can't own them or control them any more. There's no point trying to go against the tide on this.

"It's better to tap in and look at better ways of sharing, pooling resources and that could mean looking at overseas skills where we can't get them locally. If they are looking for the right talent they need to open their eyes to this stuff."

Kim Campbell, chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association, sees this happening a lot, even with people who contract to his organisation.

"Some people don't want a job, they want the independence of working on things they enjoy doing. "And many organisations don't want to pay fulltime permanently for highly specialised skills so they will pay someone a contract price to get a certain job done."

Many businesses have realised people do not have to be in the office to perform well.

Kim Campbell, chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Kim Campbell, chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association. Photo / Steven McNicholl

"There's more contemporary recognition that you can let people do their own thing and they won't necessarily cheat you," Campbell says. "Believe it or not, people will do things they say they are going to do because they can be trusted and they want more work later."

Campbell says many New Zealanders would be surprised at the number of people who live here, work from home and contract around the world, only getting on a plane to fly to the bigger centres to meet clients as required.

"We have members who run businesses in the most remote places because they happen to want to live there. They can do that because they're connected. They can do it on the side of Mt Everest, if they want to."

But he says no one should expect that the model will change completely.

"You can't run a business that way. You can only do bits of it.

"There will always be a need for people who are permanently engaged in the process of growing a business, developing strategies and executing them."

Some people look at these arrangements and see workers empowered to choose what they do and when they do it. Others see companies skirting their sometimes pricey obligations.

Bill Newson of the EPMU says the move unfairly shifts the risks of employment on to the shoulders of employees. He says it can be hard to get a mortgage or a rental property agreement without permanent employment.

"For more qualified and higher-paid people, yes, there are advantages but for general working people there are real challenges.

"Even the middle class usually have a weekly income that meets their weekly outgoings. When they are earning that's good but when they are not, it's a disaster."

He says businesses also need to realise they will get the best results out of employees who are invested in a firm for the long-term, not those who do not know whether they will have a job next week.

But back in Devonport, ecommerce adviser Bryant is buoyant about her long-term future as a jobbing "gigster".

"I am fortunate the skills and experience I have built up have value in the market," she says.

"But when you are doing your own thing you have to perform well consistently to maintain a reputation. You are only as good as your last gig."

Uber puts mum in the driver's seat

Odetta Ntezicimpa, Uber driver. Photo / Michael Craig
Odetta Ntezicimpa, Uber driver. Photo / Michael Craig

The flexibility of Uber's taxi app puts grateful mum Odetta Ntezicimpa firmly in the driving seat and she doesn't want to work for a boss ever again.

The Birkenhead woman has four children to organise and feed, and runs a driving school part-time. There is more than enough going on in her life without trying to please an employer, too.

She tried it for a while after arriving in New Zealand from Kenya 16 years ago, working for a taxi firm and driving part-time. But she struggled to balance work and home and soon found she was spending more time away from her family than she wanted, without much reward.

"They want you to spend all day on the road and I could not afford to do that. I had five hours a day to work and I would log on, spend the five hours driving and nothing came in. I would just spend money going around the different taxi ranks, then come home without having had any fares. It was not working for me."

The final straw came when the taxi company refused to adjust the levy they charged her to reflect the fact she was working part-time shifts. Ntezicimpa went looking for an alternative.

One day, she had as a passenger a Kiwi man who was living in San Francisco. He started talking about Uber, the app-based service that puts people looking for a ride in touch with willing drivers and takes a 20 per cent cut of the fare.

Ntezicimpa registered her interest with the company and a year later, received notification it was starting in Auckland and looking for drivers.

She has now been an Uber driver for 18 months. She loves the flexibility as she chooses when to work and for how long.

If she needs time for her 8-year-old or wants to work a night shift but check in with her family before they go to bed, she can do that.

"If it's a rainy day and I have no bookings in my driving school, I can choose to make myself available."

She estimates full-time Uber drivers could earn $2000 a week.

Ntezicimpa says she cannot imagine wanting to give up "gigging" for Uber.

She says the balance she has struck is one that lots of working parents dream of.

"I can expect the pay without any person calling me and saying why didn't you come to work, why did you do only a few hours. This is the only way I can survive."