50 Faces: The big gig economy
by Iffah Nadhirah Osman, Jonathan Leong, Li Shan Teo and Vanessa Wu
FINDING a job is hard. It’s even worse when there are more job-seekers than the number of jobs. With the growing gig economy, could working in this line be the next big thing?
From Uber drivers to photographers as well as various freelance jobs, these jobs are readily available for all, although these workers may not receive the same benefits that full-time employees do.
One of the concerns that these workers share is not being able to contribute to their CPF. Mr Alan Wu, 52, Uber driver, said he has to save consciously since he doesn’t have CPF savings as a safety net.
Ms Marion Ngo, 21, ad-hoc worker
“The best part of working customer service jobs is finding meaning in helping others with their queries, and making sure their problems are adequately and accurately resolved. It might be tiring, but it’s nice knowing that you’ve made someone’s experience a pleasant one at the end of the day.
There really isn’t anything that I find bad about my job. It can be tiring but that comes with all jobs. To be honest, I wouldn’t do that job if I don’t find it enjoyable.”
Ms Priscilla Poh, 24, makeup artist
“I think one of the best parts of the job is being able to meet very passionate and talented individuals that I won’t get to meet otherwise.
I guess the difficult part is the logistics of my job, sometimes figuring out how to get from place A to place B with a heavy makeup kit is troublesome! Also, I have to ship in quite a few of supplies myself.”
Mr Renney Rashid, 27, stylist and makeup artist
“Being a freelancer allows me to develop myself at a pace that I’m comfortable with, with minimal pressure to outdo others, vying for a spot for promotion in the corporate ladder. I’m also able to have more rapport building time with my clients such as going down to their level to understand their expectations and do more to achieve their desired looks and outcome. This creates a better working environment for me which in turn allows me to fully showcase my artistry in the fashion and makeup industry.
The hardest thing is to be disciplined – to plan, manage, and execute in the creative artistry. Another negative aspect has to be our product value. To some, it’s just assembling a look, grabbing a couple of dresses and accessories, and putting on make up for people – and that should not cost much because after all it’s just assembling a look. But the real deal is the preparation and detailing. It takes a little explanation and convincing before the client can understand the true value of what they’re paying for.”
Mr Ali Nuri, 19, UberEATS rider
“This job pays me weekly. The hourly rates are high during peak hours and can go up to $25/hour. In just a few hours, I can earn up to $70 – $100 plus incentives if I hit the requirement. For example, I hit 20 trips in a day or do trips while it’s raining to receive more incentives. There’s no need for me to schedule my work. If I feel the need to work then I only need to login in areas where there are a lot of food stalls or restaurants that need UberEats’ help with delivery.
The worst thing would be the unstable income. Every week or month the head of finance will change the payout scheme. It can go as low as $5/hour and per trip on non-peak hours. However, that depends on the number of orders received in the last month which the operations manager will look into. So it means our payout will defer depending on the previous month’s numbers.”
Ms Kayte Willis, 29, dance teacher and choreographer
“The best thing about working as a freelancer is the freedom to choose your own jobs. You’re as busy as a full-time worker too, which is a good thing but can also be bad because the mentality of a freelancer at times is game as many jobs as possible. It’s a first-come-first-serve basis. You have a variety of opportunities and freedom of choice for your projects. You are your own boss!
The worst thing is wanting to have the best of everything. Too many choices can also lead to greed and if you take everything, you are bound to have a breakdown. Conflict of interest is another thing. Especially with people you choose to work with and are in the same industry. But as a freelancer, we have that freedom of choice. At times, people in the industry can take that as an offence so we also have to make sure our work ethics and integrity are good. We don’t want to step in anyone’s boundaries.”
Mr Benjamin Tan, 24, writer
“The fabled flexibility is certainly true, at least to a certain extent, as I’m free to plan my own schedule according to what suits me best, within the boundaries of the deadline. This leaves me with more time to pursue other ventures in life that taking a full-time job would otherwise not have allowed.
That said, one particular area of concern will have to be the terrible pay, with a depressing average of about $25/article, it does almost always ensure low quality work — I’m fairly certain the undervaluation of freelance work has contributed to the drastic drop in online literary standards. Alas, the only way to not weep when I look at my monthly income is to grab as many freelance opportunities as I can for different publications. I don’t know about other freelance industries, but as far as writing goes, it suffers a double whammy of both being undervalued and underappreciated; Singapore isn’t exactly a writer-friendly country now, is it?”
Mr Sam Chow, 43, photographer
“I’m a full-time freelance photographer. Mainly for actual day coverage for wedding couples. Good thing is that you got to be a part of an important celebration of a couple. The ambience and the positive energy flowing around on that day are so infectious that I can’t refuse or escape.
There is a need to sacrifice family/friend time and give priority to the deadline for the submission of the wedding photos. Which I can’t avoid. And not always wedding couples are happy couples. That can be a very challenging and awkward situation.”
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Mr Syarul Ezuan Mohammed Tajuddin, 23, dancer and choreographer
“As a freelance dancer/choreographer, I have more freedom in my time and schedule. I’m able to express, excel and focus more on the tasks/jobs given to me.
As a freelancer, the worst thing that may happen to us is over- scheduling ourselves without realising it. That will give us problems in managing the jobs handed to us due to the constraint of time. It may also affect our health due to the lack of sleep/rest.”
Mr Mohamad Rafiq Azhar, 21, Uber driver
“The best thing about working as an Uber driver is that I can make my own schedule. It’s very flexible and I can adjust my timings in case anything pops out or because of emergency. Being a driver also brings me good money.
The worst thing is that I work alone. There is no one to accompany me like my friends and no such thing as colleagues for me. It’s even worse for me that I don’t have any CPF contribution, and it would be very difficult for me in future. I foresee myself not working in this line in the years to come.”
Ms Amalina Zakaria, 27, web designer and developer
“One of the benefits of freelancing would be the feeling of working for yourself, and see your efforts translate directly into results. I feel a greater responsibility for my work and this has inspired me to put in extra effort into works that I can take pride in.
However, working freelance means periods of uncertainty at times, as we do not have a fixed monthly salary!”
Ms Lavanya Kannathass, 28, copywriter
“I’m able to choose the kind of work that I want to do and with whom.
The challenging part of being a freelancer would be the lack of understanding by people close to us. This is especially so because within my family, most are civil servants and they have been ingrained with the 9-5 mentality, which is understandable. However, every person’s path and work are different and we need to be able to understand and honour that.”
Ms Mindy Tan, 35, photographer
“There is a lot of freedom when you’re working on your own and for yourself. You reap what you sow, no surprises at year-end appraisals and more or less a direct relationship to how much hard work you have put in.
Of course, you will have to bear any medical fees that may come your way and be in charge of your own financial planning more than being an employee where your health insurance is largely covered. But freedom of time to me is life. It’s a state of mind I wouldn’t trade for anything else.”
Mr Wayne Chew, 30, emcee
“One good thing about freelance work is the flexibility of time. In the past when I was working full time, the timing of the work is pretty fixed and it affects my work life balance. For now, I can enjoy my life better and plan in advance if I want to travel overseas, without having to apply for leave.
The bad thing about being a freelancer is that there is no CPF and of course, the stability of the work. To counter this, simply be disciplined enough to put a certain percentage of my earnings into a fixed saving deposit and ta-da! I can withdraw the savings with the interest after many years and unlike CPF, there is no minimum sum, though the saving interest may not be as good as CPF’s.”
Mr Kwong Wai Keat, 26, photographer
“What I like: The flexibility to juggle other commitments like full-time studies at the same time while earning an income.
What I don’t like: Having to face the impression by members of the general public who have the impression that freelance work is of lower status than regular employment.”
Mr Muhammad Haiqal Abdulmutalib, 27, dance instructor and performer
“One of the best things about freelancing is the different kind of environments that I always work in on a project basis. I work with people from other countries and get to know how their own freelance industry work. As dance is a universal language, working hand in hand with the people from other countries makes me more aware of the similarities all of us have as freelancers. This makes it more fruitful that struggle is actually a good thing.
One of the worst thing about freelancing is definitely scheduling. There aren’t any off days unless you don’t have any projects at all which means you will not be earning money so it’s a bit ironic. You have to miss out on important days such as weddings or birthdays. I’ve been working on my birthday for the past 6 years and at times, I do feel I want a day off on my birthday. Being sick is never an excuse in my line of work unless I’m severely injured. So the struggle is real but as mentioned before the struggle will be a fruitful thing at the end of the day.”
Ms Athirah Zalikha Mohd Ramli, 26, camp instructor
“The best thing is being able to meet different people every time. Different colleagues and different students. What strikes me the most is that sometimes even though we take the students for three days only, five years later, they still remember us. They will call out to us when they bump into us.
The worst thing is the hours definitely. The long hours really take a toll on your body. Mostly adventure camps have their lights out at 11pm. We will have our trainers debrief till 12am. And then wash up and head to bed by 1am. And then we have to be up by 6am. It’s really taxing but the passion keeps us going.”
Mr Randy Wu, 52, graphic designer
“I’m not a social animal. When I was working as a manager for an organisation, I hated going to meetings with stakeholders and managing my team players. Freelancing gave me the opportunity to work as an individual with almost no interactions with other people. It was a very pleasant change for me. As a freelance graphic designer, my work is solely what I love to do! Unlike in an office environment where you are dumped with all sorts of tasks that you don’t like and some that you are not even trained to do.
There are months when 2-3 clients approach you with projects with conflicting deadlines. In such instances, I rarely ever turn my clients down. The reason is simple, if you let your clients slip away to other service providers, they may never come back to you again. In such times, the stress level really builds up. Freelancing also gives me no buffer against irate clients and unreasonable demands.”
Mrs Patricia Lorenz, 49, adjunct lecturer of 10 years
“To me, the most thrilling part of lecturing is every minute in the classroom. An added bonus in working as an adjunct, or freelance lecturer, is, that you have the opportunity to teach in different fields, which suits broad-spectrum people like myself.
Ms Jia Liang, 20, honestbee shopper
“Flexibility, because we actually choose our own shifts, so we plan our own schedules by ourselves. On every Wednesday, next week’s schedule will be up. All the shifts are uploaded [to an app], so you grab the job.
The pay, there are ups and downs. They generally like to change stuff without telling us. So we just have to accept what we are given. Sometimes it’s good news and sometimes it’s bad. You just need to get used to it. If they tell you that they are doubling your pay, then you’ll be like, yay. If they tell you that they are dropping your pay, then you’ll just be, ok. It’s not like they are forcing you to accept it. If you don’t want, you can not work, but to stop work because of a 10 per cent pay cut is a bit too much. So we’ll just continue in the end.”
Ms Melanie Lee, 37, writer
“There are several good things actually: A varied work scope which gives you a broader view of the world. Avoiding peak-hour traffic/public transport for the most part. The space to pursue creative projects. The flexibility to hang out with my kid during kid-appropriate hours.
The general public perception that as a freelancer you’re probably free and lazy. But for many freelancers, we’re constantly hustling because of the uncertain income flow.”
Mr Nurikhwan Sahri, 34, graphic designer and tutor
“Basically you are your own boss over your work but payment wise depends on your luck (or skills).
The cons really outweigh the pros unless you already build up or have your client base and network.”
Mr Nurasyraf Sahri, 27, multimedia freelancer
“Freelancing is fun as you get to choose your own projects.
But payment is the risky part. Once I had a client that went missing with my work and no payment.”
Mr Nigel Ng, 25, music performer and instructor
“Well, to me freelancing would provide more flexibility in your schedule, but your job won’t be secure.”
Ms Anesa Dharosam, 25, artist
“One important advantage is the fact that you can choose what you want to do or not. If this project doesn’t appeal to me, at least I can turn it down and look for other projects instead.
The worst thing about the gig economy is the lack of security and stability.”
Ms Nasita Nasrul, 23, artiste
“The advantage of freelancing for me being a young mother of two daughters is that I get to spend more time with my family. I get to plan my own schedule and choose my own assignments.
The disadvantage, of course, is I don’t get a fixed daily, weekly or monthly pay.”
Ms Nur Shakinah Mohamed Ansari, 22, designer
“Freelance work allows me to have a flexible schedule and a less mundane life. The lack of routine is pretty exciting to me!
But the pay isn’t fixed so it’s all a matter of luck, according to when a client needs my service. Also, working with different clients means having different bosses and different expectations of the service I provide. What looks great to one may disgust another.”
Mr Muhammad Syahrul ‘Afif Mashkur, 30, trainer and director
“It’s good because the timing is flexible, and you can choose whether or not to take a project. You are also able to go on holidays during off-peak periods, and for me, I’m able to earn more than salaried pay.
The disadvantages are that there is no fixed salary or CPF, and no employee benefits.”
Mr Hafeez Hassan, 33, personal trainer and performing artiste
“I’m a freelance personal trainer and the very best thing is you can be flexible with your schedule. You set your own terms and conditions with what you want to achieve plus you get to plan your holidays anytime you want! It’s difficult to start but if you commit yourself with consistency, things will fall into place.
Actually, I used to be fearful of its instability, but only to realise that it’s all about having a good mindset. I don’t mind the inconsistent income just as long as I get to experience different environments, meet new people and enjoy the luxury of my own freedom!”
Mr Jayden Chen, 25, kids party planner
“The good thing about being a freelancer is that we can manage our own free time. Freelancer is considered as self-employed, and we can plan our time freely!
The bad thing about being a freelancer is that we are solo or so called one man show. Be it rain or shine, as long as there’s booking we have to go. Even when we are sick, we have to be there because customer booked us.”
Mr Ken Lee, 32, Uber driver
“Being a freelancer, the advantage is the time flexibility, and the disadvantage is the income instability.”
Ms Sng Yu Han, 26, music teacher
“I get to decide on my off days and I work with people who are passionate about music. Colleagues in the same industry are all like-minded people who are willing to share their expertise (P.S. No office politics).
Being a freelance music teacher means having odd working hours – working when family and friends are off work. Income and schedules are less stable; pay cuts whenever students leave and I’m left wandering the streets whenever students cancel their classes last minute.”
Mr Sakxay Seng Aloun, 22, motivational speaker
“Diversity, yet it always surprises me how much people keep to themselves. I’m not a therapist, but I’m always glad when people start opening up to me.
A middle-aged man once told me I was too young to be giving advice. I agreed with him and patiently listened to what he had to say. I held my tongue and did my best to understand his perspective. After a long conversation, he eventually asked me… “So, what do you think I should do next?” I smiled. Sometimes we forget that the true purpose of listening is to understand, not to respond.
I don’t like when older adults keep telling me I’m too young, I love it when they realise it ain’t about the age since age doesn’t always equal wisdom.”
Mr Gico Flordeliza Babagay, 22, performer
“I grow up as a performer. Many opportunities came to me. The best part of my job is meeting new dancers, sharing stories and getting advice from the experienced. From their experiences, I could apply that in my dance too.
The worst part is that the income is not really stable. There are times when I don’t have any performance for the whole month(s). Those months I don’t earn any money.”
Mr Max Yin, 39, Uber driver
[Speaking in Chinese] “The benefits of being a freelancer is that I’m free to plan my time, free to set my income target to earn enough to support my family.
However, in Singapore, without proper employment or a registered company or CPF, it’s hard to get things processed.”
Ms Sharifah Shafiah, 36, educator
“Freelancing is good because I can choose to do what I want and when I want. But I have to do everything on my own from scratch, and if I slack, my salary is affected.”
Mr Tan Kuan Soon, 38, Uber driver
“The good thing about being a freelancer is, time is flexible. You can manage at your own pace and how much you want to earn also depends on your own decision.
The bad thing is the income is not as stable as those with a proper job. Also for the contribution to CPF, you have to contribute on your own, you have no employer to help you to contribute the extra 20 per cent.”
Mr John Ang, 54, Uber driver
[Speaking in Chinese] “There are pros and cons to being a freelancer. The working hours are flexible and you can possibly have a high income.
However, it’s possible to have low income as well. Freelancers also miss out on employee benefits like CPF contributions, medical leave, annual leave and bonus which we would get if we were employees or doing a different line of work.”
Mr Said Omar Abdullah, 40, investor
“The best part of my job is having the freedom to decide on my availability. I only answer to myself and don’t have to feel guilty for mistakes made.
But the worst thing about my job is the income instability, and being cheated by partners and clients.”
Ms Justina Lim, 22, designer
“The best part of freelancing is being able to take on a variety of projects from editorial designing to branding, sometimes even copywriting.
But one of the biggest challenges of the freelance industry is being underpaid by clients who maybe undervalue the design profession.”
Ms Yeo Kai Jun, 22, artist
“One of the advantages of being an aspiring freelancer is that you have the freedom to be involved in side projects or collaborations. The opportunities are endless. That is where you gain knowledge and learn about what other artists are involved in. Sometimes, it’s not always about the certificate. To me, as long as you are passionate about the arts and keen to learn, all you need is the discipline to do research and educate yourself on the arts.
It’s sometimes hard to make ends meet as a freelancer. You probably have to get a part-time job to support yourself financially and to purchase art supplies. Trust me, art supplies are not cheap.”
Mr Alan Wu, 52, Uber driver
“The good thing about freelancing is that it allows me to manage my own time and targets. I don’t need someone to approve my leave if I have something urgent to attend to. There is also quite a bit of control in the level of income you want to achieve. If you work long and hard enough, you are able to hit the wage ceiling in this line.
However, one must consciously save up as there isn’t CPF to fall back on.”
Mr Kong Chong Yew, 30, photographer
“A good thing is that I have the freedom to manage my schedule. A bad thing, however, is that you don’t get paid on time, most of the time. There was once I had a payment that was overdue for close to a year.”
Mr Quek Kwan Zheng, 29, health consultant
“One of the best aspects of being a freelancer is being able to provide a personalised level of service quality and value to each customer as my main focus is the customer versus other constraints you normally encounter as an employee.
One of the issues that I don’t like about being a freelancer is that I represent myself versus an established brand or company, which often makes it harder to market or source for clients.”
Ms Lio Shu Yi Cheryl, 29, music trainer
“Flexibility of timing and scheduling, freedom of choice for just about anything – who to work for, what work to take up, where to work, why you want to take the work up, when you wish to work (should you need a long break or should you need no break at all).
Lack of any kind of remuneration, incentive, perks and, bonuses. MC and sick days called on MC are unpaid for. Not working literally means no money. Next worst thing would be not fitting into the social norm or stereotyped ‘normal regular job’. People tend to think the job mean nothing.”
Ms Lea Edwards, 24, soft toy designer
“I’m doing a creative type of job, which is great for boosting my design techniques and improving my crafting skills.
But it gets really difficult to negotiate with clients when they don’t seem to understand the limits of what can and cannot be done physically, and there’s no other colleague or boss I can call on for help.”
Mr Linus Lim, 25, graphic designer
“Being able to work on ad-hoc and freelance projects has allowed me to earn some money on the side while gaining relevant industry experience in the field I wish to work in once I graduate. The work and hours are typically flexible and negotiable, and as a designer, I can work from almost anywhere. This really gives me the freedom to manage my time between multiple commitments.
On the other hand, there is always a lot of uncertainty revolving such work. Although I’m fortunate in not having experienced defaulting clients or contractors, at times there have been projects that have dragged on far longer than I expected and making it difficult to manage my commitments. Another issue is that you never really know when work will start or stop. It’s not a constant flow, so it’s difficult to make financial commitments and decisions because one month you can have a lot of income and the next month nothing at all.”
Ms Cara Nicole Neo, 24, Singapore’s First Mermaid, and the Founder of the Singapore Mermaid School
“Best thing about freelancing: My tiring days are always fulfilling. As a mermaid, I occupy a blessed and privileged position from which I can share messages of self-love, positive self-esteem, and ocean conservation. I get to swim alongside new and wonderful people each time and sprinkle oodles of mermaid magic into their lives. It’s always amazing to see how people’s eyes light up when I make an appearance at their party or event, or to see my mermaid students blossom into beautiful, confident, graceful mermaids during class time.
Worst thing about freelancing: My fulfilling days are always tiring! Mermaiding looks glamorous from the outside, but there’s a lot of logistics, planning, and hard work that goes into it. From managing my emails and social media platforms to liaising with clients and media, to maintaining my equipment, to swimming in a 15kg tail, to opening my eyes in chlorinated water – there are a lot of tiny little difficult aspects that are all lesser-known facets of my mermaid life.”
Ms Nur Shahidah Mohamed Ansari, 19, actress
“The best thing about freelancing is the freedom. I’m able to choose which projects I’d like to work on, which also allows me a flexible schedule and therefore more time to spend with my family. But as much as freelancing is great, the uncertainty with regards to income can be daunting.”
This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:
- Poly vs Private degrees: It’s not the money that matters
- Private degrees: data needs to tell a fuller skills story
- 5 new jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago
- SMACK IN THE MIDDLE: Keys to success
- 5 skills employers want you to have in tomorrow’s job market
- Don’t underestimate ‘soft skills’ in your career
- 50 Faces: What is success to you?
- Got an F in school? There are still ‘100 ways’ to be successful
- SMACK IN THE MIDDLE: More skills, more agile, more resilient
Featured image a collation by Sean Chong.
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