Gig workers’ training must be inclusive

AS gig work becomes an increasingly common source of income, a lack of skills training can be detrimental to gig workers’ future prospects. Skills training can help all workers diversify their skills, especially with new technologies increasingly requiring new skills and knowledge.

However, skills training in Malaysia is generally funded by formal employers, who can use the levy paid to the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) to cover the costs of training their employees. As many gig workers do not have formal employers, they might not have the financial resources to pay for training programmes. This prevents workers from obtaining new skills to safeguard or improve their incomes.

The GigUp programme in the Digital Economy Blueprint announ-ced by the government on Feb 19 is a step in the right direction to address this issue. HRDF will subsidise training on online platforms such as Coursera and edX, and companies hiring gig workers will be encouraged to invest in training them.

While in principle this programme is to be commended for opening a door to providing skills training to gig workers, implementation details are still scarce.

Moreover, the decision to sign up with the GigUp programme appears to lie with the employer, reducing the reach and effectiveness of the programme. Employers may be reluctant to invest in improving gig workers’ skills as their employment is uncertain and temporary.

From the company’s perspective, reskilling courses may not be directly related to the existing job descriptions and responsibilities of gig workers – for example, part-time delivery riders for delivery companies wanting to learn data management skills. Companies may also prefer to train existing employees rather than gig workers, further expanding the divide between gig workers and full-time employees. Without clear benefits to the company there will be little incentive for employers to join the GigUp programme, especially if there are a lot of bureaucratic hurdles to clear.

From the workers’ perspective, the selection of online training platforms also matters – some online platforms provide courses which may only be suitable for workers with higher education levels and those who have a good grasp of English. This excludes the large proportion of gig workers who may have lower education levels and a weaker grasp of English.

Our research found that the majority of job-seekers on selected digital platforms in Malaysia do not have a university degree. Many of these job-seekers may not find online courses relevant to their needs or may not be equipped to benefit from these courses. For example, many gig workers may not have computers to access online courses – only 71.3% of households in Malaysia have computers.

Smartphone ownership rates top 90% but, as online education has demonstrated, online courses are not currently designed for smartphones. The GigUp programme needs to make skills training courses available in a variety of delivery methods, not just online, to benefit all gig workers.

Skills training programmes are important in preparing the workforce for the future. Workers should be empowered to manage their own skills training without being limited by their employer or a lack of a full time employer. Programmes such as Singapore’s SkillsFuture do this by directing incentives and funding directly to workers. Locally, HRDF is also providing free training directly to all workers through the HRDF-LATiH programme at no charge for the coming year, which could empower workers better than GigUp.

A strong skills training programme needs to be inclusive and go beyond simply increasing access to existing online courses. Such a programme would benefit gig workers without degrees who may not have a good grasp of English and who may not have access to a computer. Putting more control over skills training into the hands of gig workers and increasing the programme’s inclusivity will strengthen its role in upskilling the workforce.

TAN ZHAI GEN , Asia School of Business (ASB)

DR RACHEL GONG , Khazanah Research Institute (KRI)

Note: Tan is a research manager at the ASB and Gong is a senior research associate at the KRI.

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