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UBER and the need for “small jobs”

October 18, 2015

I am a recent convert to the joys of UBER. In a place where public transport is limited, I love the convenience and that I get so much information – about the driver, the route, the cost and exactly how much longer I need to wait. But UBER has an unexpected additional benefit – I get to spend time chatting to young drivers and hearing their views.

Last week I went to Pretoria to attend a meeting at NACI, the National Advisory Council on Innovation. On my way back to the train station, I was driven by one Mathews who told me that he had been only a few months in Pretoria and that he came from Mpumalanga. He moved to Pretoria to look for work.

Mathews had an interesting analysis of types of job. He told me that in Mpumalanga there are only “big jobs” by which he meant full time employment in engineering companies and the like. These big jobs require formal training and are an inaccessible dream for most young people in the area. By contrast, Pretoria abounds with what he called “small jobs” like driving a taxi or working at a fast food joint. He saw these jobs as accessible to someone like him, because they did not demand high skill levels. Thus Pretoria gave him an entry into the job market that he did not have at home.

He was driving his cousin’s car and I asked him about his hopes for having his own car one day. “No”, he said. “At first I thought I would want to get my own car, but it’s difficult driving for UBER. These metered taxis don’t like us and they try to damage our cars. So I wouldn’t want to have my own car and have them damage it.” Rather, he told me, “now that I have some income I want to think about starting something of my own.” He had fetched me from the Innovation Hub and he had lots of questions for me about this place and what happened there. He wanted to know whether, if he had a good idea, there were people there who could help him and I told him about Small Business Connect the Department of Trade and Industry’s program to help young entrepreneurs. So driving a taxi is not only a way to get into the job market and earn a bit of cash, it is also a way for an inquisitive young man to learn more about opportunities.

For Mathews, small jobs were valuable too because they were flexible and it was possible to hold more than one of them at a time. We discussed the benefits of having a portfolio of small jobs in an uncertain job market as security against the loss of any one. I told him about a young man I know who, despite being eligible for them, has rejected “big jobs” in favour of three “small jobs” that not only provide greater security, but also more fulfilling and varied work.

Mathews had opinions about education too, based on his experiences of trying to complete an engineering qualification, but those can wait for another post.

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