They drive you to work, clean your condo, assemble your furniture, even babysit your kid. Five on-demand workers earning a living in the ever-expanding app economy

We consumers love Uber and Favour for their super-slick efficiency. But what about the workers on the other end of the apps? Since 1997, unconventional employment—including part-time work, temporary work and self-employment—has grown almost twice as fast as traditional employment in Ontario. And more and more people are looking for new ways to cobble together a living. Working on the front lines of a digital service start-up means no guaranteed hours, paid sick days or benefits. On the plus side, the hours are flexible and you get to be your own boss. Here, five on-demand workers explain why they’ve opted out of a nine-to-five career, and how they make the app economy work for them.

Meagan Grant, 22

Handywoman at Ask for Task (pictured above)

The App: Ask for Task connects “askers” with “taskers” who do various household chores like painting, cleaning, assembling furniture or moving. The company sets hourly prices for different tasks (a handyman costs $50, a dog walker, $20).

The Hours: Grant only works a few hours per week, by choice.

The Take-Home: $400 a month

While I was studying sign language at George Brown, I went back to my hometown of Sudbury for the summer. I’d been a full-time student and relied on OSAP, but the loans were piling up.

I wanted work I could do on my own terms, with a flexible schedule. I have experience painting homes and doing odd jobs around the house, so I googled “handyman app” and Ask for Task came up. I decided to give it a try. In Sudbury I didn’t get too many requests, but once I came back to Toronto, I received a lot more. I’ve done interior painting, helped businesses move offices and assembled IKEA furniture. I have a part-time job as a clerk at Sport Chek, which covers my rent. In my spare time I pick up odd jobs through Ask for Task to earn spending money. I hate cooking, so a lot of it goes toward eating out.

At first I was nervous about going to a stranger’s house. I always tell my roommates where I’ll be, and they know to be concerned if I’m not home by a certain time. It’s hard to explain to my parents, especially my mom. I think any parent would be worried about their kid going to a stranger’s house to do odd jobs. But everyone I’ve worked for has been really nice.

The people who use the app aren’t expecting perfection. If they wanted a professional, they’d hire one. After every task, I’m rated from one to five stars. I have a five-star rating, which means I am an MVT (most valuable tasker), and I’m alerted to jobs an hour before anyone else.

The best part is that I can work as often or as little as I want. When I graduate, I want to be a freelance interpreter so I can continue to make my own schedule. I think a lot of people my age are pulling away from the nine-to-five thing. Being a slave to the man is not my style.

Christian Kuhnle

Christian Kuhnle, 67

Driver for UberX

The App: Uber connects passengers with drivers who use their own cars. Drivers and riders rate each other out of five, and both can have their accounts deactivated if they receive too many poor ratings.

The Hours: Kuhnle works from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. during the week and varying hours on weekend mornings.

The Take-Home: $2,500 a month

I moved to Canada 30 years ago from Germany. I was in the corporate world at first—I ran an industrial equipment company—but I needed a change. I switched over to the hospitality industry and worked as a general manager in restaurants all over the city. After 15 years, I decided to move on. Restaurant work is a young person’s game.

I stopped working full-time in my early 60s, but I wasn’t yet ready to retire. I heard about Uber before it came to Canada, and it seemed like a cool idea. Why leave your car sitting in the garage when you could be using it to make money? As soon as UberX came to Toronto, I signed up as a driver with my Mazda 3.

During the week I’m on the clock for UberEats (the company’s food delivery service), and on weekend mornings I’m driving for UberX. I don’t have to stick to a schedule; there is no boss calling me for a meeting, no deadlines. I’m always meeting new people, and this kind of work makes me feel young.

My rating is 4.9—I’m right at the top. But every driver gets bad ratings once in a while. Sometimes you get a bad rating because you make a mistake, and that’s legitimate. More often, though, it’s personal. If a client is running late, I do my best, but I can only do so much—I have to obey the laws of traffic. The passenger may still think it’s my fault that they’re late and give me a bad rating. This is totally unfair. I don’t care, though, because the good trips make up for it.

It’s true we don’t get health care or job security. The trade-off is freedom. If you choose this type of work, you’re responsible for finding your own health insurance, or putting away money for your retirement; in exchange, you can work when you want, and not when you don’t. We are all equals in the car.

Marsha Holness

Marsha Holness, 35

Housekeeper at Kleanr

The App: Kleanr connects customers with cleaning pros who are vetted, trained and insured. Cleaning fees start at $90 for a small condo.

The Hours: Cleaners are paid between $15 and $18 per hour, and Holness works roughly 30 hours a week.

The Take-Home: $1,800 to $2,100 per month

I grew up at Jane and Finch, and had my son when I was 17. I’m a single mom, and while I had some financial help from my family, I also worked as a maid throughout high school and college. I attended the International Academy of Design and Technology in Toronto and studied interior design.

I worked for traditional cleaning companies like Merry Maids and Molly Maid for almost 10 years. The hours weren’t flexible, which made it hard to be there for my son. I decided I wanted to make a change.

A year ago I saw an ad for Kleanr on an online job board, and I haven’t looked back since. They understand that I have a family and other responsibilities. Right now I work about 30 hours a week, and that’s enough to support me and my son. If I need more money, I can just ask them to book me from morning to night and they would do it. I mostly work downtown cleaning condos. The majority of my clients are young professional women or families with young children. They’re usually pretty tidy—I’ve never walked into a frat house. But no one wants to work 12 hours a day and then clean their house. Unlike Uber, there’s no star rating at Kleanr; they only hear from people if there’s a problem, and so far I haven’t had any negative comments.

I recently started training to become a team leader. That means I’ll be in charge of scheduling and managing a team, and I won’t have to clean anymore. In my experience, traditional cleaning services aren’t interested in helping people move up, or teaching them new skills. I don’t want to be doing the hard physical work when I’m 50. I want to be a manager by that age. Somewhere down the line I hope I can use the skills I gained in design school in my cleaning work. Organizing or staging are things I’d love to do. Who knows what the future holds.

Chloe Sarshar

Chloe Sarshar, 27

Babysitter for Date Night

The App: Date Night connects parents with babysitters. Sitters are first interviewed over Skype by Date Night staff, then added to the roster. Parents then interview the sitters and pick a favourite.

The Hours: Sarshar works about 15 hours a week. Date Night sets the rates between $10.50 to $15 per hour depending on the sitter’s experience.

The Take-Home: $800 a month

In my regular job, I work part-time for a charity that runs a mentorship program for high-achieving, marginalized young women. My goal is to do that full-time, but right now it’s not enough to pay the bills.

I’ve been babysitting since I was 18. It helped fund my undergrad at U of T, and it got me through the social service worker program at George Brown. When all the kids I babysat had grown up, I wasn’t getting as many jobs, and I had to decide whether I wanted to keep babysitting or do something else. I worked for an occupational therapist for a few months, but I hated sitting in an office doing paperwork every day.

I joined Date Night a year ago. It’s been a great way for me to meet new babysitting clients and keep myself afloat until I can work full-time in my field. I make a couple of hundred dollars a week babysitting, and between that and my part-time charity work, I make ends meet.

I love working with kids, but it definitely comes with its challenges. I once had a three-year-old who demanded waffles for dinner, and after I said no, he spent the entire night totally naked, screaming and throwing food at me.

My family doesn’t like the fact that I babysit. They think I’m too old. But I enjoy it, and I’ve made some useful connections. On one recent Date Night assignment, I told the mom that I’d be working on a job application after the kids went to bed. When she came home, she read it over and gave me some advice. It turned out she had experience with the kind of work I want to do. The company liked my application so much that they offered me another position. (I didn’t take it because it wasn’t the right fit, but every new connection helps.) Sometimes it can be hard not knowing where the next paycheque is coming from. Still, I like the life I live.

Amy Smithers

Amy Smithers, 30

Runner for Favour

The App: Favour connects runners with people who need something delivered (it can be anything, as long as it’s legal).

The Hours: Smithers works about 40 hours a week. Favour pays runners $12 per hour, which usually works out to $15 an hour or more with tips.

The Take-Home: $2,000 to $2,400 a month

Last June, I was working in adoptions services for an animal shelter, and it was making me unhappy. There was no room for growth. I wanted to make a career change, so I quit without a plan.

I took the summer off, but by August I had to start looking for some sort of income. I knew it was going take me a while to find another full-time job, and I still wasn’t sure where I wanted my career to go. That’s when I saw an ad on Facebook for Favour, a delivery service based in the States that was launching in Canada. I figured it would be better than a retail job. I signed up and became their first runner. Most runners deliver things on their bikes, but I use my car.

Within three weeks, I was promoted to runner support, which I do the majority of the time now. It’s sort of like a dispatch job. I can see where all the runners are, help them if they need it, and take care of customer service if there are any issues. I’ll still work one shift a week as a runner if I want to make up hours.

I’m basically a personal assistant for someone new every day. I usually deliver food, but sometimes it’s random stuff. Once, I brought roses and fruit to a guy’s girlfriend who was having a bad day. Somebody forgot their keys at home, so I picked them up and delivered them to the office. I’ll never forget delivering $100 worth of McDonald’s for an office lunch. The manager of the store had to help me fill up all the fountain drinks.

Right now I’m figuring out my next step. I won’t do this indefinitely, but it’s been a convenient way to fill the gap. The flexibility is my favourite part. I’ve been able to travel more. It’s not like a job at the mall where you’re stuck working Christmas Eve, or a corporate job where you only get 10 vacation days. Plus, I’m not cut out for doing the same thing every day.

Clarification

February 19, 2016

Amy Smithers was promoted to runner support after three weeks of working for Favour.