Shifting focus to freelancing

(From left) BFM 89.9 producer and presenter Freda Liu interviewing Bulow, Wong, Lim and Lau. — Photos: YAP CHEE HONG/The Star

FREELANCING would have been frowned upon many years ago but today, it is considered a “cool” thing, with many wanting to join this career path.

The advancement of technological infrastructure and connectivity has also created vast opportunities for individuals to work wherever and whenever they choose.

In fact, up to 30% of the global workforce are now pursuing freelance opportunities while 50% of the Malaysian workforce are self-employed.

The growth of the freelancing economy in Malaysia has increased by 31%, according to the Emplo-yees Provident Fund (EPF) in August.

To understand the freelance generation better and how their role is shaping the Malaysian economy, INTI International University and Colleges conducted a survey on 300 full-time freelancers.

It was found that 68% of the respondents chose to be freelancers as their first career choice; citing having control over working hours, getting a diverse work experience and the flexibility to choose jobs or projects, as reasons.

Many may relish being their own boss, but long-term financial sustainability remains one of the critical concerns for freelancers.

As compared to full-time employees, freelancers do not get to enjoy fixed monthly income as well as the entitlement to company-sponsored retirement savings or social security coverage.

What is worrying is that 66% of freelancers said they did not have a retirement plan; 33% did not have a personal savings plan, while 56% had less than three months of savings.

In a panel discussion held by INTI to discuss the findings and freelancing landscape in Malaysia, EPF Strategic Management Department deputy manager Wong Theen Chuan stressed the importance of financial literacy.

“Despite the growth of the gig economy in the country, these professionals do not save for retirement.

“About 70% of Malaysians are below the global levels of acceptable financial literacy rate. Freelancers should start equipping themselves with sound financial management knowledge to be able to plan their finances properly,” he urged.

In addition, 65% of freelancers hoped that the government would recognise freelancing as a formal career as it would enable them to apply for social security, loans and capital that would help them to sustain financially.

The findings were also timely as they supported EPF’s recent call to the Government for the need of more incentives under retirement savings schemes to promote savings among the self-employed.

“EPF has been working with colleges to allow EPF and the Social Security Organisation (Socso) to share with students on how to manage their finances upon entering the workforce.

“We also work with secondary schools, educating students on the importance of saving since young.

“But education is just one part of it. How we should inculcate the behaviour to be financially savvy is another. That’s the hard part but we’ll continue to work closely with education institutions,” said Wong.

On another note, the panel agreed that it could be cost-effective for companies to hire freelancers when they were unable justify a full-time position or more importantly, when they needed specialised help.

Trisilco IT Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Melvin Lim said with technology driving the growth of the freelance economy, organisations would see a shift in their talent pipelines and must determine how they could adapt to remain competitive.

“Our company has an 80:20 ratio of full-time employees and freelancers where we outsource the latter when there is a need for specialised job scope that we cannot find locally.

“Sometimes, it takes longer to train our people when we need something done urgently,” revealed Lim.

Freelancing also boils down to hard work.

Cilisos Media Sdn Bhd editor-in-chief Lau Chak Onn, who used to be a full-time freelancer, reminded freelancers to really work in order to be successful.

“Plus, they need to have good communication skills so they would be at the top of the client’s mind for the next gig. They also need to provide value-added services and go the extra mile if they want to stay on top of their game,” Lau advised.

INTI International University and Colleges chief executive officer Timothy Bulow said with continuous changes in the job landscape and economic trends, institutions of higher learning must reinvent their education offerings to meet the widening scope of employability.

“To ensure that we prepare our graduates for diverse careers, INTI collaborates with over 450 industry partners in providing practical learning based on market needs.

“We have offered integrated modules to help students gain expertise in digital marketing and e-commerce.

“Coupled with these are leadership talks, on-campus career development programmes and networking opportunities with senior business leaders that provide the transferable soft skills needed to excel in any industry,” he added.

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