No significant rise in number of freelancers

Office workers in Shenton Way. Though not been a significant uptick, the number of freelancers among millennials is seeing growth PHOTO: ST FILE

While the number of freelancers here has been creeping up, there has not been a significant uptick.

This was revealed by SkillsFuture Singapore chief executive Ng Cher Pong yesterday at The Straits Times and SkillsFuture Singapore Future of Work Forum.

Mr Ng was on a four-person panel taking questions from an audience of 370 at the School of the Arts.

"It is a big public policy issue, particularly if the numbers grow larger. It's an issue that we've been tracking quite closely," he said of freelancers.

The number of freelancers among millennials has seen some growth, according to Mr Ng.

He said: "Many millennials are quite comfortable entering the workforce and starting as freelancers because it gives them the flexibility and freedom to do things."

He added, however, that Singapore has not seen the upward trend that the United States has seen in areas such as game design.

When foreign companies in that sector set up operations here, most of them choose not to start with the freelancing model, despite it being fairly prevalent in other countries.

Mr Ng said this was firstly down to the small talent pool here, which would drive firms to hire the individual to secure the service exclusively.

Secondly, they want to develop the talent themselves, since operations are still at an early stage.

Another concern is regarding training for freelancers and upgrading of their skills.

"One of the difficulties for freelancers is when they want to go for training, they do so on their own, unlike in a company. It's their own costs. That's why when you look at industries dominated by freelancers, training participation tends to be lower," he explained.

"Freelancers tend to focus on securing the next project rather than building up a portfolio of skills."

Apart from freelancers, Mr Indranil Roy, head of Deloitte's Future of Work Centre of Excellence, pointed to the emerging crop of retirement age individuals who still have the technical know-how and capabilities to contribute to the workforce.

He suggested the creation of a marketplace for these individuals and their skills so as to harness their talent, which is important for a small country like Singapore. They could go into advisory and consulting roles with small start-ups to help build them up.

Mr Roy cited the example of Sweden, which he said has "done a good job of making it lucrative for people to get into such alternative work arrangements".

Samsung Electronics Singapore president Lee Jui Siang agreed with Mr Roy's observation on the quality of the seniors in the workforce.

He said that in his organisation, there are senior workers and that they keep themselves fit and healthy, and are very informed about current affairs. He added: "The older generation today is very different from the older generation in Singapore 20 years ago. We are seeing the senior worker who is very, very fit and healthy, and they keep current. So maybe it's not age per se, but the mindset of older workers in Singapore."

Fabian Koh

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2018, with the headline No significant rise in number of freelancers. Subscribe