It’s a warm and cloudless day in Gilbert, Arizona as Jay Alan walks out to his car, phone in hand. He has just scheduled a last minute shift with Amazon Flex and will be driving to the Phoenix distribution center to pick up his allotted packages for delivery. Jay is a full time student at Mesa Community College, earning a certificate in welding. Working for Amazon Flex is a way for him to help pay for those classes and other living expenses. And he is not the only one who has found delivery work to be a source of income. On-demand work, such as Amazon Flex, DoorDash, and UberEats, allows Arizona college students to work flexible schedules and earn income to pay for tuition during their school year.

With tuition prices increasing, many students find themselves working while enrolled in college. According to a 2017 study by the US Department of Education, 43 percent of full-time undergraduate students and 81 percent of part-time students held jobs while in school (Perna et al., 2020). With the pandemic forcing many people to social distance and stay home, the demand for delivery services skyrocketed. The delivery apps DoorDash, UberEats, GrubHub, and Postmates saw revenue rise $3 billion collectively in 2020 during their second and third quarters, more than twice as much as the same time period in the previous year (Sumagaysay, 2020).

A draw of on-demand work is that the delivery apps make it very simple to sign up. All of them require applicants to be at least 18 years of age, have a valid driver’s license, own a smartphone to access the app, and pass a background check (through your social security number). Some, like DoorDash, also have you complete an orientation and then send you a kit to get you started. This process can take anywhere from a couple of days to a week or two (Schwahn, 2021). Pay can vary depending on the time and distance required to make the deliveries, but typically falls between the $11-$18 per hour range. Unfortunately, these rates do not factor in tips, expenses, or taxes.

When I spoke with Jay, he had been working for Amazon Flex for two months. “The process to get started was easy. I think I was making my first delivery about two days after I signed up,” says Jay. Because his work with Amazon Flex is just supplemental income, he doesn’t feel the pressure to work a lot of hours a week, maybe averaging about 16. And he soon realized that waiting for last minute shifts, when pay increases to entice drivers to pick up those hours, was the way to earn the most money in the least amount of time.

While the biggest draw may be the flexibility in schedule, these jobs also require little experience and include no micro-managing. According to the Pew Research Center, 16% of adult Americans have earned money from an online gig platform (that’s 41 million people), and most of them are people who are in the 18-29 age group. Of course, there are cons to any job. When I asked Jay what drawbacks he has as an Amazon Flex driver he said the app drains his phone’s battery and that he never knows what area he will be delivering to until he scans his order at the warehouse. “I leave my house in Gilbert and pick up at the warehouse in central Phoenix. Then I have to drive to places like Avondale or Casa Grande. And when I’m done, I still have to drive back home to Gilbert. So, I’m putting a lot of miles on the car and buying a lot more gas than when I worked at jobs that were in one place.” Other disadvantages include weekend/holiday work and no health benefits.

I was also interested in how long Jay sees himself being an Amazon Flex driver. He smiled at the question and said he thinks about quitting all the time. He finds this amusing because you don’t really quit, you just don’t sign up for any shifts. Once he finishes college, Jay doesn’t plan on continuing as a driver, but he says its nice to know he can always go back to it if he needs a little extra money. Jay recommends that students who are interested in on-demand work even consider signing up for multiple apps to increase work availability. Unlike Amazon Flex, DoorDash works well for people who work in an area with a high concentration of restaurants and grocery stores in dense neighborhoods. “You get to pick the area you want to deliver in and don’t have to drive as far.”

It’s hard to know if on-demand work will continue its boom as people return to doing more in-person activities, such as shopping on their own or going out to eat. For now, it is a popular and easily accessible option to help students earn money so they can stay in school and, ultimately, start a career that doesn’t just pay the bills, but is also rewarding.

Resources:

Anderson, M., McClain, C., Faverio, M., and Gelles-Watnick, R. (2021). The State of Gig Work in 2021. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2021/12/08/the-state-of-gig-work-in-2021/

Perna, L. and Odle, T. (2020). Recognizing the Reality of Working College Students. American Association of University Professors. Retrieved from https://www.aaup.org/article/recognizing-reality-working-college-students#.Yk4DUtvMK3A

Schwahn, L. (2021). Making Money With DoorDash: How to Start and What to Expect. Nerdwallet. Retrieved from https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/finance/make-money-doordash

Sumagaysay, L. (2020). The pandemic has more than doubled food-delivery apps’ business. Now what? Market Watch. Retrieved from https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-pandemic-has-more-than-doubled-americans-use-of-food-delivery-apps-but-that-doesnt-mean-the-companies-are-making-money-11606340169