Why school leavers rather join the gig economy

PETALING JAYA: Lower entry barriers into the ehailing and p-hailing industries are making the gig economy a “career” of choice for many SPM leavers.

Malaysian eHailing Alliances chief activist Jose Rizal said the government’s proposal to lower the age limit for p-hailing riders from 21 to 18, as well as abolishing the Public Service Vehicle (PSV) vocational driving licence exam, which was previously required for ehailing, would lower the entry barrier for SPM leavers.

“This is one of the reasons why SPM leavers who are not interested in continuing their studies (would choose ehailing and p-hailing).

“It opens up opportunities for them to earn a living without having to complete their studies,” he said in an interview.

“We were against this previously because this will lead to a surplus of p-hailing riders,” he said, adding that only ehailing operators, however, would have the actual numbers of riders based on the registrations.

He also claimed that although the related Acts and the regulatory guidelines had yet to be enforced, operators had already started allowing 18-year-olds to register with their platform.

In May, Education Minister Fadhlina Sidek said some 48.74%, or 180,680 SPM students from the 2021 school session, chose not to further their education.

Universiti Malaya’s Education Faculty Assoc Prof Dr Zuwati Hasim said many SPM leavers opted to work and join the gig economy because they might find this lucrative and fulfilling.

She pointed out that for some, this could be a stepping stone to other opportunities, such as furthering their education or transitioning to more traditional employment.

Other reasons are the need to financially support themselves or their families, the desire to be independent, and a sense of autonomy as they embrace adulthood.

While jobs like ehailing or p-hailing could be a viable career option for some individuals, she said their sustainability and ability to secure a future could vary depending on several factors, such as income variability.

“(Where) they may have fluctuating income, this can be a challenge for income stability, as again, this depends on demand, working hours and location,” explained Zuwati.

Another challenge is the lack of benefits, as there is no health insurance, retirement plans, or even paid time off, which can affect the workers’ long-term financial security.

“For this reason, gig workers really need to plan their financial gain,” she pointed out.

Job security, added Zuwati, was also a challenge in the gig economy since gig workers were classified as independent contractors, which meant they lacked the job security and legal protections that came with traditional employment.

She added that the low entry barriers for gig jobs had made these easily accessible to individuals without the requirement of advanced degrees or extensive training.

“To some, this gig economy may serve them temporarily while they explore future educational or career options.

“Through this experience, they may gain maturity in deciding the areas of interest that are more practical for them to pursue,” she said.

Some parents have acknowledged this by allowing their school-leaving children to work before enrolling in higher education or seeing diplomas as options for the children to decide on their next pathway, said Zuwati.

Melaka Action Group for Parents in Education (Magpie) chairman Mak Chee Kin feels that more SPM leavers opting for a job in the gig economy should come as no surprise.

“Some are financially in need, and some believe that instead of wasting five years in college and varsity, which does not guarantee a good job and pay, it is better to build a career now,” he said.

Technology, said Mak, was another driving force, adding that young people were also attracted to the fast money, flexibility and freedom offered by the gig economy.

“Although money flexibility and freedom are there, it lacks retirement security and health benefits. It can lead to financial vulnerability when one retires and in the event of illness or injury,” he said.

Economist Prof Dr Barjoyai Bardai said the gig economy might account for 70% of future jobs.

“I think we need to clarify the definitions of gig economics for the market and the people.

“The current definitions of gig economics are too confined to ehailing activities,” said the Emeritus Professor from Universiti Tun Abd Razak.

He said gig work would no longer be just a short-term fix but a long-term career choice for many, leading people to transition from formal employment to contract-based jobs eventually.

“When we look at the gig economy as a service beyond just ehailing, it can be an attractive career. To move up, they must acquire new skills demanded by consumers, enabling them to earn a substantial income, perhaps even RM10,000 a month, as gig economy players,” he said.

Barjoyai also suggested promoting and formalising gig economy professions by dedicating a ministry specifically to oversee the gig economy as well as emphasising a culture of continuing education within the gig economy community.

He pointed out that as nations developed, demand for personal services would increase, making it crucial for the gig economy to diversify into sectors like house maintenance, electrical services and personal shopping.

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