Look into needs of older S'porean freelance workers

It is heartening to learn that the Government is looking at how it can help small and medium-sized enterprises cope better with the challenges of a slowing economy ("Budget 2016 will look into helping SMEs in difficult period: Heng"; last Saturday).

More job redundancies resulting from the economic slowdown will mean a higher percentage of professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) becoming unemployed.

In such a situation, one of the best ways to continue working is to create your own job.

Self-employment as an independent service provider makes sense for mature Singaporeans with many years of work experience and deep skills, but who are at a disadvantage when competing with younger (and less costly) full-time job applicants in a shrinking job market.

It has been estimated that there are more than 200,000 freelancers (or "solo entrepreneurs") in Singapore.

For freelancers, their only source of income is their service fee from piecemeal assignments, ad hoc projects and, possibly, retainer work.

Due to stiff competition, freelancers are often at the mercy of clients when it comes to how much they can charge for their services and when they are paid... The situation may be even more challenging for older freelancers whose opportunity costs are often higher.

They do not get Central Provident Fund contributions from employers, annual wage supplements, performance-based bonuses, medical benefits or annual leave that full-time employees enjoy.

For freelancers, their income depends entirely on outcome (satisfactory completion of tasks given). It is not unusual for freelancers to spend a significant portion of their time looking for new assignments or project work.

Due to stiff competition, they are often at the mercy of clients when it comes to how much they can charge for their services and when they are paid. In addition, they may not get the best terms when negotiating with suppliers.

The situation may be even more challenging for older freelancers whose opportunity costs are often higher.

Perhaps the 2016 Budget could consider some form of assistance for this group of disadvantaged Singaporeans, without taking away the need for self-reliance.

The Workforce Development Agency (WDA) could consider registering and accrediting freelance workers based on their experience, education and expertise.

Older Singaporeans who are former PMEs and doing freelance work are also able to offer their knowledge, wisdom, skill mastery, contacts and maturity to their clients.

They could possibly be part of a pool of freelance service providers that government agencies and other organisations could tap on a regular basis. The WDA could possibly be among the first government agencies to do this.

Such an arrangement will help more senior Singaporeans to remain meaningfully engaged and economically active in their silver years.

Joachim Sim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2016, with the headline 'Look into needs of older S'porean freelance workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe