Liv­ing in a free­lance world: Sin­ga­pore’s grow­ing gig econ­omy

Singapore Business Review - - FIRST -

When Ng See Min, 22, was weigh­ing ca­reer op­tions af­ter fin­ish­ing stud­ies, she chose to be­come a free­lance henna body artist, at­tracted by the flex­i­bil­ity that the gig ar­range­ment of­fered and con­fi­dent that it can be a sus­tain­able job with the right amount of ef­fort put into it. “I don’t like to be con­fined un­der the tra­di­tional 9 to 5 work ar­range­ment, nor be­ing deskbound,” said Ng. “Free­lanc­ing al­lows me to fully max­imise my time ac­cord­ing to my dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties weekly. Free­lanc­ing also low­ers the chances of be­ing mi­cro­man­aged.”

Ng said one of the perks of free­lanc­ing is hav­ing con­trol on when to work and play, of­fer­ing a spon­tane­ity that tra­di­tional time-struc­tured em­ploy­ment can­not. She also brushed off wor­ries that the free­lance ar­range­ment will not be able to con­sis­tently pro­vide for his fi­nan­cial needs.

Forty-year old Yukiko Lim also cited the same rea­son for ditch­ing her 11-year ca­reer as a fi­nance and HR man­ager for free­lance make-up ser­vices. On av­er­age, she earns $4,500 per month.

Ng and Lim are just two of the grow­ing num­ber of Sin­ga­pore’s labour force choos­ing to join the so-called gig econ­omy. Of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics sug­gest that there are about 180,000 free­lancers cat­e­gorised as ow­nac­count work­ers, or about 8.3% of the labour force in 2016, said Chua Hak Bin, an­a­lyst at May­bank Kim Eng. Mean­while, the Man­power Min­istry es­ti­mates the num­ber of gig free­lancers “who use in­ter­net plat­forms” is only about 20,000.

The free­lance work trend is driven by a num­ber of ac­tive gig econ­omy com­pa­nies in the city-state, namely Uber, Grab, De­liv­eroo, and Food Panda, said Dea­cons and Corrs Cham­bers West­garth in a re­port.

Chua reck­oned that a grow­ing gig econ­omy has prob­a­bly cush­ioned the nega­tive im­pact from the down­turn in the job mar­ket, wherein em­ploy­ment con­tracted in the first half of 2017, the worst per­for­mance since the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

“Re­trenched or un­em­ployed work­ers are able to turn to gigs for some sup­ple­men­tary in­come whilst look­ing for a per­ma­nent job,” said Chua. “Slack in the labour mar­ket may not be as large if sec­ondary gig work­ers are not as anx­ious to quickly find per­ma­nent em­ploy­ment.” May­bank Kim Eng data also sug­gests that mil­len­ni­als make up for a grow­ing pro­por­tion of Sin­ga­pore­ans who are en­ter­ing the gig econ­omy. About 47% of ITE and 35% of polytech­nic grad­u­ates opted for part-time/tem­po­rary/free­lance jobs in 2016, more than dou­ble the per­cent­age from a decade ago.

Mil­len­ni­als on gigs

One of them is 27-year old Am­ber Seah who for­merly worked in events and mar­ket­ing be­fore do­ing bak­ing gigs for her clients.

She noted that free­lanc­ing gives her more op­por­tu­nity to achieve fi­nan­cial free­dom com­pared to be­ing de­pen­dent on a monthly wage in a reg­u­lar em­ploy­ment set-up. “On the pos­i­tive side, grad­u­ates are vol­un­tar­ily opt­ing for free­lance jobs be­cause of the greater flex­i­bil­ity, op­por­tu­nity, and tech­no­log­i­cal ca­pac­ity to cap­i­talise on the in­ter­net econ­omy. On the nega­tive side, grad­u­ates may face less job se­cu­rity, volatile earn­ings and min­i­mal so­cial se­cu­rity con­tri­bu­tions,” Chua said.

Ng See Min works as a free­lance henna body artist

Yukiko Lim ditched her 11-year ca­reer for free­lanc­ing

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