Is your Uber driver safe?

I’m always curious to learn what my Uber drivers did before they decided to drive for a dollar. An amazing amount of them left jobs that by comparison, make chauffeuring people around seem like the best gig ever. But is the freedom and job security they claim to love real? And are they really getting anywhere - in life?

One driver I met used to work in a meat processing plant. The worst traffic is still better than being stuck on the killing floor. Another driver worked in an ambulance factory - according to him, it was so tedious and repetitive he nearly died of boredom. He didn’t see the irony. And more than a few were already working as drivers before they started to drive for Uber. Usually delivery trucks with demanding bosses and schedules.

There’s no doubt that if you’re in a job you hate, you should seek something else. But there a number of things that I think all Uber drivers should consider before they spend too much time in the driver’s seat.

Their jobs are going to be replaced by driverless cars. Most likely made by the very same company they work for now. Sure, there have been some unfortunate accidents as the technology evolves, but you can’t stop progress. By driving for Uber they are theoretically helping fund their own obsolescence. Maybe not this month, or this year, but soon. If there’s any job security at all, it’s short lived.

There’s no forward progression. Most of the drivers I ride with left full-time jobs with a logical, defined career path. Even the killing floor and ambulance factory would have had line manager, assistant manager, and manager roles that one could work towards. They may not have enjoyed what they did, but at least accession was possible with opportunities for growth and more pay. As a driver, they may forgo office politics and process, but there’s no future either. And when the driverless cars take their jobs, they’re going to have huge gaps in their resume.

The freedom and control is a myth. Ask any Uber driver and they’ll proudly tell you “I decide when I want to drive and for how long.” That’s true, but Uber decides if you can drive and how much you get paid, and if your star ranking goes down, you’re done. So all that control Uber drivers love to brag about is really an illusion. They are slaves to an app, the audience that uses it, and the company that owns it.

Make the most of your drive time. I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m in my car I use the time to learn. I listen to podcasts, “books on tape,” college courses, etc. I have never once gotten into an Uber where a driver wasn’t listening to talk-jock radio or some singer who needed to be auto-tuned. When I suggest educational podcasts as a way of making their down time profitable - by investing in themselves and their own knowledge, they usually just laugh. I guess if your last gig was killing cows, driving might make you feel like you’ve reached nirvana.

It may be a good gig, but its not super. If your only income comes from being a part of the burgeoning gig economy, then chances are you’re not paying yourself any superannuation. And because you don’t technically count as an employee, Uber doesn’t have to pay you any either. Unless you do something about it now, that “freedom” you enjoy so much now could mean you have to keep working til, well, forever.

So, dear driver, let me give you two tips that will really earn you some change.

1. Set yourself up for super success. Consolidate any and all superannuation accounts you already have, and start putting 10-15% of your income into them every time you get paid.

2. Don’t just drive - take control of your destiny. Prepare now for the gigs of the future. Do it by taking training courses that will help you up-skill to stay relevant, stay valuable, and stay employable - no matter what the future brings.

If, as part of actioning tip number one, you decide to switch your super to Zuper, then you’ll automatically qualify for “Learn more / Earn more” discounts at modern education providers like Academy Xi, General Assembly, LMA, Switch L+D, and more. These discounts will more than pay for themselves because the more you learn, the more you can earn.

One day soon, maybe not this month, or this year, but soon, I’ll book an Uber and you, my dear driver won’t be in it. Most likely because they finally got driverless cars to work, but hopefully because you already got out, got trained up, and got into whatever the next great gig of the future is.

Until then, thanks for letting me use your phone charger. And for the mints.

Eran Thomson

Founder and CCO at Zuper Superannuation. I've beaten cancer, been beaten by Mt. Everest, and like to bust rhymes to the beat.

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