The gig economy is real and here to stay

  • According to EPF there are more self-employed people than conventional workers
  • It's important to make the distinction that not all gig jobs are the same


The gig economy is real and here to stay


THE gig economy is an inevitable development, and although it represents opportunity for both employer and employee, it might just be a symptom of a larger, looming problem.

This was the conclusion of the panel discussing "The Gig Economy: Disruptive Innovation or Opportunity for Exploitation" at Universiti Malaya.

"The trend is moving towards (the gig economy) simply because we have more tools and more access," said Shareen Shariza Abdul Ghani (pic, above), Sorga Ventures Sdn Bhd co-founder and director, and former TalentCorp CEO. She referred to changes in three things: how people work, and the tools used; improvements in workforce policies; and changes in the workplace itself.

"It is real, it is here," she concluded.

The statistics quoted by the panel seem to bear this out. Currently, 55 million people in the US are gig workers, representing more than a third of the workforce, and 70% of those gig workers say they won't go back to a conventional working environment. Meanwhile according to EPF, the number of self-employed people has grown by 31 percent and has surpassed those in the conventional workforce.

"In the next five years, 40% (of a company's workforce) will be coming from contingent workers," elaborated Shareen, while pointing out that it's not a phenomenon that only affects the young.

According to an Addison Group survey, 44% of Baby Boomers are willing to become gig workers, versus 59% of Gen X and 66% of millennials.

The gig economy benefits employers as well. "If I don't have that talent in my organisation, I can acquire them on a rent basis," said Shareen, highlighting that 84% of talent managers in the Asia Pacific prefer gig workers (as opposed to 47% in the US).

Not all gig work is the same


The gig economy is real and here to stay


However, not all gig work is the same, with a spectrum from jobs that are easily available, to specialised ones requiring particular capabilities.

"There are unskilled gig workers," said Roberto Benetello (pic, above), EU-Malaysia Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO, giving as an example jobs such as food delivery and ride sharing, which he notes, is not really to the advantage of the worker.

"They don't have a choice. They are often exploited. They don't have social security, they don't have those kinds of things that other (conentional) workers have.

"On the other side of the spectrum are skilled workers," continued Benetello, "These guys can name their price."

These skilled jobs include coders, designers, data scientists, copywriters, trainers, HR professionals, and even artists. They are quick to move from one job to another, and may be involved in several freelance projects at a time.

Benetello feels it's important to make this distinction that not all gig jobs are the same, lest they are hidden by statistics. "For example in Indonesia you might see that the unemployment level is not that high, but the problem is that these people are not fully employed," was they example he gave. In fact, these workers turn to the gig economy because they can't easily find other work.

In comparison, most gig workers in Singapore are highly skilled and choose to become gig workers.

For highly-skilled workers, the challenges - and rewards - are obvious. "When you're paid in US dollars, it's four times more than what you can get in Kuala Lumpur," said Darzy Norhalim, MDEC director of the Sharing Economy Ecosystem Division. "You are competing against the world."

The challenge is then how to upskill yourself to the best?

"The responsibility of improving yourself falls on yourself," said Shahrizan Abd Latif, PitchIN Equity Crowdfunding and WatchTower Friends Accelerator Head of Campus Initiative. "You have to actively seek mentors."

Challenges to do with the nature of (new) work

However, not everything is rosy on the gig economy front. Changes in the employment landscape need new regulations.

"The legal framework in terms of social security, insurance, contracts and all that is really important," said Benetello. "I think it's something that needs to be developed in Malaysia.

"For example, (look at) labour law or construction law. Some of the gig workers here for example, wouldn't be allowed to do the same work in European countries," said Benetello, citing as an an example, motorbike delivery riders who would need more protection there.

Benetello believes that gig work heralds the oncoming sea change that Industrie 4.0 brings. The benefits that high-level automation, artificial intelligence and hyper-connectivity bring will disrupt the nature of work. "A lot of these jobs, they're not going to be there," he said. "Not twenty years from now, (but) three years from now.

"Gig work somehow is a manifestation of that," Benetello continued, emphasising that we have to adapt to this new future . "Thinking that you can go back and undo many of these things is wishful thinking."


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