When the coronavirus hit, it upended the workforce, spiking unemployment rates. Those who were lucky retained their jobs; others saw reduced hours and the most unfortunate, unemployment. However, many Singaporeans responded with a new perspective on working in these strange times. I have seen friends and former colleagues flourish after being unemployed from jobs (thought they) loved. (how to turn a side hustle into a full time job)
‘Two weeks to flatten the curve’ has turned into over two years of uncertainty and knee-jerk public health decrees. If nothing else, the coronavirus pandemic has shown us that we are resilient and that technology can conquer virtually any challenge, remote employment and high unemployment rate included.
The work landscape today hardly resembles what we have known for decades. Vast swathes of people work exclusively from home while certain industries have been decimated. Some Singaporeans, though, are flourishing. Here are some of the interesting people I have met over the past two years who have turned the catastrophe that is unemployment into opportunity.
Do what you love
“Dream job!” exclaims Isha when I ask her about what she does. She is a former colleague from a media company who faced unemployment in early 2020. She turned the extra time to one of her passions, technology. Isha runs a fledgling but growing online channel that specialises in ‘unboxing’ videos. (tips on making engaging video content)
Diminutive and bespectacled, she was always a techy person but is on the absolute cutting edge now. When I met her, she was just doing the final edits on a video of the Samsung S22+ 5G that was released the week before.
“All I need is a decent laptop,” she says, “When I first started, I was using a free video editing software. Lighting was in the hands of the sun.” Her sleek setup today costs about $20,000, all paid for by online revenue from ads and paid features on her YouTube, Twitch and Instagram channels.
Isha explains that she can work anywhere, even without the elaborate equipment. I wonder at the freedom she has doing something that she loves. She used to make brief review videos after work before but this feels almost like the start of an empire.
Though coy about her exact income, it is obvious that she is making far more than her 9-to-5 before. I realise that the key is that she saw a niche that took little effort for someone who loved to talk tech all the time. It makes me wonder about the hobbies I have and whether my own videos could elicit the same response. Isha was a clear example of someone who turned unemployment around for the better – she made it an opportunity to grow her own brand and to kick off her own business.
Do what you know
Tyson sits back in his plush seat and goes, “Ahhhh…”
I laugh at the pleased look on his face but I am also so pleased that he is doing well. We are sitting in his car and he has just spent 10 minutes describing the features of this high-quality seat.
“I work when I want, don’t work when I don’t feel like it,” he says as we drive off. It’s a weekday but he has paid the e-Day license for his OPC weekend-plated vehicle. “And it pays for itself.”
Tyson is one of the seemingly countless people moonlighting as a hire car driver. He is back at university now but was one of my interns a couple of years ago. ‘Car-mad’ does not even begin to describe him.
“I know my car better, right down to the smallest parts,” he enthuses, “The other day, this mechanic friend said he’d pay me to work at his workshop. I haven’t paid a single cent in servicing and maintenance for the past 2 years!”
Like Isha, Tyson took unemployment as an opportunity rather than a setback. He used his free time and invested it into something he loves. And it loves him back. He plans to do a master’s overseas after he finishes his undergraduate course next year.
The hire car phenomenon continues to snowball. Evidently, even a part-time driver can make ends meet (although he does still live with his parents). It occurs to me that this is one of the simplest ways to earn on the side, no matter what work you do. With online Maps providing directions down to every turn and corner, it is literally impossible to get lost. For anyone facing unemployment and are equipped with a driver’s license, private hire driving might be the quick solution for you.
Do everything you can
I currently work with Seth Lui, one of Singapore’s leading food and lifestyle bloggers. Seth was an early adopter of the concept, beginning his journey in 2013. Today, his brand employs a large team of full-time and freelance creative specialists.
Working with them and meeting others in the industry, I have discovered that the freelance market is booming. Traditional employers are receptive to the idea of engaging talented creators on an ad hoc basis, and they aren’t paying pennies as was the case when I was a greenhorn a long time ago.
“I work from home and it’s really quite similar to my full-time role as an editor,” says Clarissa, “Minute for minute, the freelance stuff pays more.”
Clarissa has been moonlighting as a copywriter for an events company while hanging on to her regular job. With the two roles and a working husband, the couple earns a five-figure salary. That is in stark contrast to mid-2021, when Clarissa was faced unemployment.
“I was applying like crazy after being laid off and both offers came at the same time,” she explains, “With remote working, it’s the perfect time to do both!”
Clarissa joins countless other graphic designers, web developers, artists, copywriters and editors with the same outlook. It’s a wonder how much work there is to go around. It dawns on me that the lockdowns are partly the reason, too.
With everyone spending so much time indoors, online content really did become king. I have friends that have thrown themselves headlong into NFTs (Non-fungible Tokens). They are a hot commodity right now and one of those friends has given up a career in the Armed Forces to pursue it.
When I express my shock, he answers, “My retirement account could never match what I can earn in a few years. The field is still so empty.”
These stories of the transition from unemployment to employment in Singapore are not unique. Whatever the national unemployment rate may be, enterprising individuals are leveraging technology to go where they want and when they want it. This curve is only getting steeper.
So to answer the big question “Does unemployment affect you in the future?”. There is no fixed answer, unemployment could affect you in the future in both positive and negative ways. If you turn unemployment around into an avenue for a new job or business opportunity – this could add to your resume and make you a more valuable asset in the workforce. However, if you accept unemployment as defeat and don’t make full use of your free time, it could definitely leave a mark in terms of your career trajectory.
All in all, unemployment is only as bad or good as you make it to be!
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