This article was written in collaboration with the Labour Movement. All views expressed are the independent opinion of DollarsAndSense.sg
Grab private-hire drivers, freelance writers, food delivery riders, and ad-hoc paralegals – what do these freelance jobs have in common? If you say flexibility and high-hourly wages, you’ll be right. But if you reply that these jobs could disappear in the next five years, you may also be right.
There are about 223,000 own account workers in Singapore according to MOM (i.e. they are self-employed but don’t hire other people).
The rise of technology and new business models have opened opportunities for Singaporeans to work on an ad-hoc basis – something that was unheard of just a decade prior.
It is hard to see such developments as anything but a good thing since they bring convenience and value to customers, while concurrently providing employment (thus far, at least) to those who choose to take part.
Freelancer Today, Unemployed Tomorrow?
As we’ve all seen in the Uber exit of the Singapore market, a career based solely on a single platform or company is only as stable as the platform or company itself.
Similarly, if your entire “career” is based on a single “gig”, such as driving a private-hire vehicle, or doing freelancing copyrighting assignments, then once that “gig” is automated or moved overseas, your entire livelihood is at risk of disappearing altogether. This can happen earlier than you think.
Private-hire car drivers must realise that driverless systems are being tested extensively overseas, while Singapore already is already testing deployment of driverless vehicles on a limited basis. Car and technology companies are racing to be the first to offer a reliable mass market driverless solution.
Even freelancers in the creative industries are not immune to the danger of being obsolete. Freelance writers who churn out basic prose now must contend with artificial intelligence algorithms that can take data and translate it into readable narratives. Video editors have to compete with automated services that can generate video clips for social media from text articles.
We should also realise that it is not a question of if, but when, drones will replace the bulk of food delivery contractors and warehouse workers.
Arguably, some business functions performed by full-time staff in companies are also at risk of being redundant. However, full-time employees have the benefit of being retrained and redeployed to perform higher-value roles within a company. If you think about it, most full-time employees rarely find themselves doing the exact same thing year after year.
Rapid change in the economy is a reality.
For freelancer, the question is whether you’ll be disrupted by these future changes, or whether you can position yourself to be able to take advantage of the coming trends?
If you want to build a future-proof career, then you must realise that you need to look ahead and prepare yourself for what’s coming. Will you be an innovator and trailblazer who is quick to adapt and able to usher in a new wave?
What you don’t want to be is a laggard who has the skills, mind set and networks of yesterday’s freelancers. Otherwise, you might be a freelancer today and easily find yourself unemployed tomorrow.
Disruption Can Be A Good Thing – If You’re One Of The Disruptors
Before you panic and view artificial intelligence as if it is a Terminator T-800 here to kill your job, remember that change is a double-edged sword – so long as you’re on the correct side.
The industrial revolution freed up agricultural workers to produce goods on a massive scale. The knowledge-based economy created the conditions for new kinds of vocations and value-added services to emerge. In the same way, the same drones and artificial intelligence systems that replaces certain jobs also creates opportunities of their own.
For instance, rather than merely being a freelance writer, with the help of algorithms, you could now be a full-fledged editor running whole websites or magazines. Rather than having to craft every single sentence, your time can now be spent doing creative edits to the drafts created by artificial intelligence.
For food delivery personnel, you could be in-charge of planning routes or piloting multiple delivery drones, allowing you to create more value in less time.
People doing freelance clerical or legal work can save time and handle more clients by relegating menial data entry and analysis to programmes designed to automate these tasks, and instead focus on performing higher-value work.
The disruption that future brings can be a great and exciting thing for freelancers and working people on the whole. You just need to be ready for it. The following section outlines some concrete ways on how you can get started.
# 1 Network – Who do you need to know for your next career?
If you’re just doing a job for today, you can sit back and serve your existing clients. But if you truly have an eye toward the future, then you should take networking seriously.
Skills can be outsourced overseas or even replaced by a computer, but human relationships and business networks that you have are impossible to replicate. Cultivating strong professional networks are one way you can future-proof your job and secure freelance opportunities for years to come.
Professional network platforms like LinkedIn and Young NTUC’s Youth Career Network allow you to keep in touch with your business associates, and even gain mentors and mentees who can unlock new skills and industries to you.
Young NTUC’s volunteer career coaches mentor youths with career guidance and support.
This helps you expand and deepen connections that you have with the people who matter.
# 2 Skills – what future skills should you be learning today?
If you only learn so that you can fulfil the gig assignments you are assigned, then you should take a more pro-active approach towards your professional development.
Having additional skills means that a wider range of projects would be made available to you, reducing your risk of not being able to get freelance work in future.
If you’re short of time, there are modular, just-in-time courses from mobile apps such as e2i’s ULeap that you can learn on the go.
Plan ahead and identify skills you need to expand your capabilities both within your vocation (vertical, deep skills) and beyond your vocation (horizontal, general skills).
For example, if you’re into IT, acquiring more skills in your vertical means getting professional certifications or going on specialised courses in your trade.
You could also improve your skills horizontally, such as learning about negotiation, project management, business writing, or crafting user experience.
# 3 Career Vision – where do you see your future self?
What actions you take (or not take) depends very much on the vision you have for your career. As a freelancer today, you don’t have the luxury (or perhaps burden) of a human resources department giving you time off work to pursue training.
Some resources you can try to map out your skills and career journey are:
- NTUC’s U PME Centre
- Employment & Employability Institute (e2i)
- MyCareersFuture and MySkillsFuture
- Korn Ferry Advance (paid)
At the same time, be aware of your rights and know who you can approach to advocate for fairer treatment of freelancers.
Building A Future-Proof Career For Years To Come
As a freelancer, you can avoid many of the problems associated with the “gig” economy if you see your business more holistically, plan ahead, and adopt a pro-active mind set in the areas of networking, skill development and career vision.
So long as you continue to self-reflect and ensure that you can always value-add to your clients and the economy, then you can be assured of a lucrative “gig” for years to come, whatever form that takes on.