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. “The Gig Economy - Disruptive Innovation or Opportunity for Exploitation” forum on 19 February 2019 was curated by the office of Industry and Community Engagements, University of Malaya (UM) at UM under the auspices of the Committee of Deputy Vice Chancellors (Industry and Community Networks) of public universities and Department of Higher Education Malaysia.
Freelancing and participation in gig economy is getting more popular, especially among millennials who prefer flexible working conditions and job-hopping. Unlike full-time workers who focus on a lifetime career, freelancers or gig workers thrive in pursuing temporary and flexible jobs offered by clients, normally with very specific scope and instructions.
"The trend is moving towards (the gig economy) simply because we have more tools and more access," said Shareen Shariza Abdul Ghani, one of the forum’s panelists. 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 Forum was moderated by Professor Dr. Evelyn Devadason from UM and the panelist include Mr. Robert Benetello (CEO of EUMCCI), Mr. Sam Shafie (CEO of PitchIN Equity Crowdfunding, Watch Tower & Friends), Mr Darzy Norhalim (Director of the Sharing Economy Ecosystem Division, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), Ms. Shareem Shariza Dato Abdul Ghani (Co-founder and Director of Sourga Ventures S/B as well as former CEO of Talent Corporation and Ms. Pathma Subramaniam (senior writer for Enterprise and Personal Wealth, The Edge Malaysia). This forum attempted to assess the various impacts of participation in gig economy especially from the higher education viewpoint and what can be done to ensure sufficient preparation and adaptation are made by both academia and industry in addressing this new working phenomenon.
Gig economy has grown by 31% in 2017, a growth figure that surpassed the conventional workforce according to EPF Malaysia. "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.
Although the gig economy has increased the work efficiency and reduce the cost of doing business, it is also raising concerns on social safety nets, financial security, retirement plans, health and wellbeing. Life can be stressful and challenging without savings for the future. In addition, the ability to work may be reduced due to sickness, aging, reduction of competitive edge and other factors.
A recently published study by Oxford University highlighted that the working autonomy and flexibility associated with the digital gig economy often lead to long, irregular and anti-social working hours which can contribute to sleep deprivation and exhaustion. "The legal framework in terms of social security, insurance, contracts and all that is really important," said Robert Benetello, "I think it's something that needs to be developed in Malaysia.”
There have been several discourses on the benefits, impact and challenges of gig economy on Malaysians. Unlike in traditional education system, the requirement for survival in the gig economy emphasises competency in specific skill sets rather than general education requirements.
Written by: Dr. Bong Yii Bonn