How to get YOUR GIG ON

Why work nine-to-five if you don’t have to?

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Why work nine-to-five if you don’t have to?

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For most of us, our first and perhaps only brush with the idea of the gig economy is through Uber, where the drivers are considered independent contractors, not company employees. But this kind of contract work is now becoming more popular in all sorts of industries – and the flexbility and salaries mean companies and employees are welcoming it. 

Want a gig?

While it might have been common in our parents’ era to hunker down in a nine-to-five job for years on end, that’s changing – and we have ourselves to thank. Millennials now make up a large portion of the workforce and with that comes a changing attitude. We want more time to ourselves, less time being inefficient in an office, and we’re more ambitious about what we want to do. As a result, we look to gigs.

The whole idea behind the gig economy is that companies can hire independent contractors or freelancers for a specific role or job without having to keep them on long-term contracts.

Frank Koo, Head of Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea, LinkedIn Talent and Learning Solutions says, “Millennials in general place greater emphasis on work-life balance and career fulfillment.” This greater autonomy – whether you’re a freelancer or contract staff – is naturally an attractive choice for many young professionals, he adds.

The gig economy has become so popular, that there are now more spaces to cater to those who gig, like co-working space The Working Capitol. Co-founder and Chief Culture Officer Saranta Gattie says, “The access to information and our mobility have opened new worlds our parents never saw. For the older generation, safety and stability in their life was the priority, which meant a stable income. [Members at The Working Capitol] come from all over the world and from all walks of life, but what they have in common is a high level of curiosity and a hunger to do meaningful work.” These types of workers are comfortable with change and don’t feel the need to commit to one employer in case better opportunities come along.

Who gigs?

Last October, the McKinsey Global Institute surveyed 8,000 people to find out what motivated them to join the gig economy. They found there were mainly four groups of people: free agents, casual earners, reluctants and the financially strapped. The first two groups do independent work by choice, and reported greater satisfaction with their work lives than nine-t0-fivers.

“The variety of exposure that comes from working in contract roles allows employees to increase their skills, and experience a new industry and new environments. And working in new industries allows employees to test not only their capabilities but also their ability to adapt, therefore enhancing their professional portfolio,” says Kirsty Luce, Director at Page Personnel Singapore. For example, you might have started your career doing marketing for skincare products, but find your skill set still applies to a marketing role in, say, the tech industry.

It also exposes gig workers to multiple industries that they may not have been considered for on a full-time basis due to a lack of experience. This means people can increase their opportunities both in terms of industry knowledge and also from networking. “In some cases, [contract work] can be an opportunity to trial a role before taking it on full-time. Currently, we’re seeing one in four contract roles converting to full-time roles,” says Kirsty.

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On the hunt?

As great as the gig economy and freelance life may sound, are companies in Singapore really hiring for such positions?

Surprisingly, the answer is yes. According to recruitment company Michael Page, 68 percent of companies in Singapore are including contractors as part of their staff headcount. Of these companies, four in five are planning to maintain or increase their contract hires this year. Employers recognise the value of a contract worker and their skill set. Michael Page lists the top three benefits received by contract workers as annual leave (68 percent), medical coverage (57 percent) and completion bonuses (34 percent), so in a sense, the benefits aren’t that different from a full-time job. 

But… what about the buts?

Obviously, the gig economy is not for everyone. Contract work – the kind that pays well – only works when you’re at a certain level of your career. A Harvard Business Review story called Who Wins in the Gig Economy and Who Loses by Diane Mulcahy, says that “workers with specialised skills, deep expertise, or in-demand experience win in the gig economy.” Diane highlights abilities like management skills, creativity and technical know-how as being key to successfully creating a work life that “incorporates flexibility, autonomy, and meaning.”

But if you’re just out of university, and aren’t even sure what it is you want to do, this might not be for you. “The gig economy rewards hustle. Workers that rely on their employer to provide career progression and financial security will struggle,” Diana writes.

Hustling isn’t for everyone. Working for yourself has its downsides such as no fixed working hours (and nothing to stop you from working all day and well into the night), and the added stress of knowing you won’t have a regular paycheck. The lack of a team can also feel pretty isolating for some, and all this is even tougher if you’re not even sure you’re working in the field you really want.

Do the hustle

The way we work is changing, and luckily we’re in a prime position to explore just what that means. Some people might feel more comfortable in a steady job. But it’s nice to know that for those looking to explore alternative possibilities, they’re actually available in Singapore – as long as you know how to go about securing them.

In any case, the good news is that businesses seem to be open to hiring a mix of permanent and part-time staff: “Being adaptable is part of the employment culture now – showing flexibility to both contract and full-time employees is essential to attract and retain talent to give organisations a competitive edge,” says Kirsty. At the end of the day, the gig economy is bestsuited to those who have a willingness to adapt, which makes you attractive in any industry anyway. So, are you ready to gig? 

According to recruitment company Michael Page, 68 percent of companies in Singapore are including contractors as part of their staff headcount. Of these companies, four in five are planning to maintain or increase their contract hires this year

Images Text Karen Fong.