We have all heard the term, “gig economy” before.
While it is not a new phenomenon, it remains elusive to those who are currently still employed in the traditional sense. What exactly is the gig economy and what does it entail? What job descriptions would fall under this category?
Fret not, we’re here to help you demystify the “what”, “who”, “how” and “why” of the gig economy.
The term was first coined in 2009 by the former New Yorker editor, Tina Browni. She described how workers in the knowledge economy were pursuing “a bunch of free-floating projects, consultancies, and part-time bits and pieces while they transacted in a digital marketplace.”
Contrary to popular belief, gig work has been around for more than 100 years – although today’s gig economy has taken a different trajectory. In 1915, jazz musicians conceptualized the term “gig” in reference to a live performance.
As the term stuck, a job market came with the rise of temp agencies following the Great Depression in the 1930s. Eventually, the digital era surfaced, and with the proliferation of companies such as Uber, Airbnb, Etsy and Fiverr – the gig economy has created its own market.
Who Chooses Gig Work
A McKinsey report found that many gigs or “independent” workers choose this working style as they are attracted by its autonomy and flexibility. While some are driven by economic circumstances and labour market conditions. The research classified these workers into 4 key groups;
Free agents get their primary income from independent work and actively prefer it. Example: A self-employed plumber or therapist in a private practice.
Casual earners use independent work for supplemental income and do so by choice. Some have traditional jobs, while others are students, retirees, or caregivers. Example: A hobby crafter who sells bead necklaces online or a professor who gives paid speeches.
Reluctant derive their primary income from independent work but would prefer a traditional job. Example: A temporary assistant looking for permanent employment.
The Financially Strapped do independent work for supplemental income, but they would prefer not to have to do side jobs to make ends meet. Example: An office worker who moonlights as a Grab driver.
In Singapore, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) defines gig workers as “own-account workers”, or “self-employed people who are engaged in trade or business without employing any paid workers.” The number of own-account workers in Singapore stood at about 211,000 in 2019. This is an increase from 200,000 workers in 2016.
How to Jump on the Gig Economy Bandwagon
Whatever your personal motivation for wanting to join the gig economy – be it for autonomy and flexibility, in need of extra income, or seeking a job switch – it helps to weigh the pros and cons of the gig work you wish to embark on.
Although opportunities in the gig economy can provide a stop-gap for those unemployed or in-between careers, you have to take into consideration your career development moving forward.
If you wish to achieve higher income or career mobility, it is crucial to find opportunities that are more likely to offer training and upskilling.
There has been tremendous growth in the gig economy, but most of it can be attributed to unskilled work such as transportation (Grab, Ryde, and Lalamove) or delivery services (Food Panda and Deliveroo).
Work that is simple, repeatable, and standardized is easier to manage, hence this explains the success of these gig platforms.
A vibrant gig economy for knowledge workers such as engineers, consultants, creatives, or management executives has not really materialized.
Managing knowledge workers can be a difficult task as they prefer some level of autonomy and do not like being overseen or managed.
This is not to say that finding such assignments is impossible, but other economic factors are at play too.
If anything, the COVID-19 crisis has amplified the potential for remote work and new ways of working for companies. But it is still a work-in-progress for many.
Ultimately, the ability to network and having a notable personal brand would definitely come in handy to get you (and your skillsets) noticed. If you’re not sure where to start, updating your resume would be a great next step.
Explore opportunities in LinkedIn, job portals and the gig economy platforms that you’re interested in. Alternatively, you can seek career guidance from experienced consultants at Bridge.
Why the Gig Economy is Here to Stay
Economic experts and industry players say that the rise of the gig economy has been beneficial for both companies and consumers in Singapore.
A plethora of digital platforms that broker on-demand services connecting workers to consumers have sprouted here, giving anyone from couriers to caregivers the ability to pick up work at their own time and preference via an app or website.
The gig economy has paved the way for individuals and small companies to become more entrepreneurial. And many have been buffered by job losses from the COVID-19 crisis.
But this comes with a caveat – gig workers are most susceptible to fluctuations of the economy and do not have the safety net of a regular stream of income, CPF contributions or healthcare benefits.
Is there still a future for the gig economy in Singapore then? Absolutely.
However, much has to be done to support gig workers and provide them with a social safety net. For instance, measures supporting training programs and bolstering CPF savings of gig economy workers were rolled out last year by the government.
This should be extended to gig workers in the private sector too. Companies and professionals need to see gig workers as viable options for skilled positions, not just rudimentary roles. Economic growth will speed up if Singapore cultivates a blended workforce.