Career paths in flexible work

Key takeaways

  • Flexible workers can pick up skills and experience that offer career advancement outside of traditional channels.
  • Career paths include movement to higher-wage roles and from shift work to permanent hires.
  • Flexible work can be a "try-before-you-buy" recruiting tool as well as a source of temporary labor.

The transformation of the labor market via flexible work isn't just about businesses bringing in "just-in-time" labor or workers setting their own schedules. Activity on our platform suggests that flexible workers are already developing career paths, and businesses are using flexible work as a recruitment tool. By offering intermediate stages between shift work and a permanent hire, we can make these career paths more accessible. 

Moving up the value chain

Several of the roles offered on our platform sit in a hierarchy based on skills and experience. To name a few examples, we have shifts for barbacks and bartenders, prep cooks and line cooks, and warehouse associates at the entry level and intermediate level.

When workers sign up for our platform, they may not be ready or eligible to take on the higher-value positions. But with time, they can pick up the attributes they need. Many of them want to do just that; in a survey of workers who had completed shifts on our platform or had signed up recently, more than a third said they hoped to learn new skills via flexible work.

If we track workers' histories on the platform going back to 2021, we can see how many transitioned to higher-value roles. We can see how long it took them, on average, to move up. And we can see how their hourly pay increased from the first shift in the lower-value role to the first shift in the higher-value role. Here are the data for the pairings above:


 Share who have advanced  

 Average time to advance  

 Average change in hourly pay  

 Entry level to intermediate warehouse  


 67 days


 Prep cook to line cook  


 47 days


 Barback to bartender  


 76 days


These are substantial gains in pay, well in excess of the inflation in consumer prices that might have occurred over the same periods of time. In part, the shares advancing depend on the shifts offered by businesses on our platform. But the opportunities are clear. 

Building the relationship

In the survey cited above, more than 60% of the workers who responded said they were looking for a full-time position. It may not have occurred to them that flexible work could be a stepping stone, rather than a way station, between jobs.

From what we've seen, it can be. Over time, we've introduced tools for businesses that help to build relationships with their workers. Businesses create rosters of workers to whom they offer shifts exclusively, and now businesses can also book workers for long-term assignments. We also have a program by which businesses can hire workers permanently. 

Though some of these tools are still rolling out across our platform, we can already track how often workers transition between these stages of the relationships with businesses. For example, one in eight workers got onto a roster, in an average of 63 days after working their first shift on the platform. It's early, but so far 2% of workers on rosters have obtained a long-term assignment, and another 2% have been hired directly. There's good reason to think these hires will be more successful than hires made via traditional channels, since the workers and businesses have already had the experience of collaborating – both sides were able to "try before you buy".

We consider these progressions to be big wins for everyone involved with Instawork. And by finding productive matches between workers and businesses in a new way, we're chipping away at some of the stubbornest forms of unemployment in the economy.

Realtime metrics

These metrics, derived from data aggregated across the Instawork platform, compare the two weeks starting 7/14/2022 to the previous two weeks. To control for the overall growth of the Instawork marketplace, only shifts involving businesses that booked shifts in both periods are included:

  • $0.00 change in hourly pay
  • 0.6% point drop in share of short-notice shifts
  • 2.4 hours rise in hours per existing worker

To receive future briefings and data insights from our Economic Research team, please subscribe below. Follow Daniel Altman on Twitter at @AltmanEcon or on LinkedIn.