Fresh Grads: What to Know About the Gig Economy in Singapore

Shania Wong
GoJek, one of the many ways to participate in the gig economy in Singapore

It’s job hunting season for most fresh grads now, isn’t it? Sadly, you may be hitting a wall: Singapore’s move back to Phase 2 means many recruitment efforts have come to a grinding halt. With the long-drawn-out nature of the pandemic, those just beginning to enter the workforce are facing a lack of available jobs in their preferred fields.

The few jobs that are available tend to be skewed toward certain sectors or be low-wage labour. Coupled with the high competition, becoming a freelancer could be a viable alternative during this prolonged crisis.

The gig economy has been a blessing during the pandemic as it serves as a means for many to supplement or replace their income. However, there are still those who retain a more conservative mindset and their prejudices towards freelancers — especially in Singapore.

That’s why today we’ll be debunking the negative stereotypes of freelancers and addressing some of the concerns you may have concerning working in the gig economy.

What Exactly is the Gig Economy?

The gig economy essentially comprises workers hired for on-demand jobs or short-term projects. In a Singaporean context, MOM has shared that those who perform such task-based labour are called “own-account workers” or “self-employed persons who are engaged in a trade or business without employing any paid workers.”

At least 10% of all employed residents in Singapore are part of the gig economy, and this number continues to grow at a steady rate. Common examples of gig workers include Grab drivers, food delivery drivers, and Airbnb realtors.

Why Students Should Consider Taking Extra Jobs via the Gig Economy

Every time you hear about the growing gig economy in the news, it seems to imply a negative impact on the local labour force. On top of the lack of government support, it’s understandable that there are many who don’t view gig workers in a positive light.

Read also: A Guide to Part-Time Jobs for Students 16 Years and Above

But despite the lack of benefits that gig workers face, are there still good reasons for students to try their hand at the gig economy? 

1. More work opportunities as you get access to a global client base.

As the idiom goes, “the world is your oyster.” The gig economy isn’t limited to just deliveries and ride-hailing. You can do anything as long as you have a skill to offer — or are willing to hone one. From logo design and ghostwriting to creating video greetings, harness the power of the internet to work on projects from clients all over the world.

2. Work whenever you want, wherever you want.

Not everyone likes working in a fixed and controlled office environment. With the gig economy, you are free to pick your working style. This flexibility of when, where, and how you work gives rise to a better work-life balance, which boosts productivity levels and your quality of work. 

3. Supplement your portfolio and earn additional income.

With the ever-changing social distancing restrictions, students working part-time jobs are now also facing the issue of job instability. As such, getting into the gig economy is a great opportunity to earn some spare cash and strengthen your portfolio without having to be bound to a single employer.

4. Learn to adapt to the new norms of remote working.

As employees get used to WFH arrangements, a remote or distributed workforce could be the norm in the future. The gig economy is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in such working arrangements and familiarise yourself with the tools you need to work efficiently. Remote working may take some getting used to, so it’s always great to prepare yourself early. 

5. Encourage positive disruption and change in the industries you are working under. 

As former Member of Parliament Ang Hin Kee said, “with disruptions, incumbents tend to up their game.” Many aspects of traditional work arrangements are broken. For most office workers worldwide, the pandemic was a great realisation that there’s a better way.

What Few Will Tell You About the Gig Economy in Singapore

Everyone has a different understanding of the gig economy, especially when it’s not their main income source. They may have heard negative rumours or had poor experiences that led to their bad impression of this sector.

1. You’ll have to deal with negative stereotypes.

Some people may be unable to accept the idea of earning per gig as a main source of income. This gives rise to many questions that may seem intrusive and off-putting such as: “Is it you cannot find a job? You don’t have a fixed income?” and many other variations.

Such sentiments towards freelancers are common, where freelancing is seen as a euphemism for “unemployed” or a stop-gap measure for someone “unable to find themselves a real job.” You’ll find this especially so when conversing with people who are less receptive to remote work.

But it’s important to note that not all of us want a 9-to-5 job with limited flexibility in how we work.

On top of that, the flexibility of freelancing can also give you a buffer during an economic downturn (like the one COVID-19 caused). Instead of being tied to a single employer who may lay you off, you can build up a portfolio of different clients and projects: losing a single source of income won’t hurt you much.

2. You’ll have to learn to cope with the pressure from not conforming to societal norms.

All parents worry about the sustainability of their children’s career choices, so as a freelancer, expect some nagging.

“No fixed income, no employee benefits, no bonus, no annual leave. Why still freelance?”

“No full-time income, no career expansion opportunities? How to start a family? Is this a dead-end job?” 

“You don’t seem like you have the resilience and discipline to succeed in the gig economy.”

Freelancing may seem like a stagnant job. It does not have built-in progression and skills training, so you’ll have to be proactive about your own learning.

You’ll also need to learn to manage your time and finances skillfully, but it’s definitely possible to build up a stable income through multiple sources while contributing to CPF.

3. You’ll face gender inequality.

This is common in every industry and not just in the gig economy. However, it’s still best to be prepared that certain clients may prefer working with a specific gender over another. There’s also another common stereotype that women should not be working in the gig economy. Don’t be discouraged by this though as there’s an abundance of clients out there!

How to Manage Negative Sentiments Towards Freelancing

1. Have the right mindset.

Know your purpose for freelancing and what got you started in the first place. This will be what motivates you to pursue and succeed down this path.

Treat freelancing as if you’re building your own personal brand and you are your own boss. You take on a multi-faceted role as a freelancer. You are the price setter, the negotiator, the salesperson, the accountant, etc. There should be no shame or inferiority involved in a career that requires you to wear multiple hats.

You will always be your greatest supporter. Not everyone knows the hard work and behind-the-scenes work of being a freelancer. Some may view this career through rose-coloured lenses thinking only of the flexibility of such a job. However, there’s also tons of back and forth, the occasional dealing with unreasonable clients, keeping up with deadlines and administrative tasks, and so on.

2. Set attainable goals for yourself within your niche, then put in the hard work. 

Like in any other career, you should set specific goals and KPIs for yourself. This could be a skill you want to perfect or perhaps a specific number of clients you want to have worked with. With every success story you’ve heard about from others in the gig economy, hard work is always the constant. 

3. Do the research, know your worth, and be picky with your clients.

Consistency is key when freelancing. This includes the quality of your work, prices, and customer service. It’s a good practice to clearly pen down the type of clients you want to take on, your bottom line (what makes you walk away from a client), and your work requirements. This is to protect yourself as a freelancer against unreasonable clients. 

Be especially picky with your clients and don’t just accept anyone even if you’re just starting out. The greatest injustice you can do to yourself is to lower your prices just to get into the good books of a certain client.

As such, you’ll need to know the value of your work and your unique selling points to help you stand out in the market and justify your pricing. Conduct some market research and see what other freelancers are charging for similar services and work from there. 

Sourcing for Some Motivation to Get Started in the Gig Economy?

Let’s leave you with a quote from John McAfee: “The gig economy is empowerment. This new business paradigm empowers individuals to better shape their own destiny and leverage their existing assets to their benefit.”

There are various opportunities that you can leverage on within the gig economy. Even more so when work from home statistics have shown that work productivity is reportedly higher compared to in an office. 

Joining the gig economy does not mean that it has to be full-time or replace your day job. If you’d rather do it as a side hustle instead, here are some part-time job ideas you can do from home to get you started!