Freelance economy

Bulow.
Lau.
Wong. — Sunpix by Shahrill Basri
Lim.

IN the welcome address for INTI's panel discussion on freelance economy, Timothy Johnson shared, "60% said they wanted to become a freelancer not because they can't get a job, but because they want to do it. So we asked them why; it was flexibility."

"The world we live in now is all about the flexibility to choose the jobs or projects we want," Johnson, INTI Education Group's senior vice president of marketing, explained.

Recognising the role of freelancers in shaping the Malaysian economy, and to better understand the growing adoption of freelancing as a career, INTI International University & Colleges commissioned a first-ever survey of 300 full-time freelancers representing various professional fields of work, including business, marketing, IT and computer science, culinary arts, and art and design.

The survey uncovered insights on the freelancing landscape in Malaysia, as well as the potential role of tertiary education institutions and the government in responding to the growth of this sector.

Commenting on the survey, Timothy Bulow, CEO of INTI International University & Colleges said, "The freelancing economy is changing the way we think about careers and has expanded job prospects beyond traditional employment.

"With young professionals opting to freelance in spite of the availability of full-time work, the impact of this shift must be given serious consideration if we are to leverage these talents in advancing Malaysia's economy," Bulow explained.

To further deliberate the survey findings and uncover the realities of the freelancing economy in Malaysia, INTI organised a panel session with Bulow and industry partners Wong Theen Chuan, deputy manager for the Strategic Management Department of EPF, Melvin Lim, CEO of Trisilco IT Sdn Bhd and an INTI alumnus, and Lau Chak Onn, editor-in-chief at Cilisos Media Sdn Bhd.

In addressing the advantages of freelancing, both survey and panel found that freelancers are in a unique position to make choices in what they want to do rather than being tied down to a scope of responsibilities. This creates diversified work exposure, enabling freelancers to learn new skills and insights from client to client.

As dynamic and versatile professionals, freelancers could become real assets to organisations and the economy as they leverage a broad perspective of ideas when engaged in projects. In spite of this strength, there are still gaps in the opportunities and development of freelance professionals in the country.

Lau, an established name in the Malaysia's digital media said, "The job market has changed. With few 'safe' jobs available, more Malaysians are now jumping on the attractively liberal freelance market. Calling your own hours, keeping 100% of the revenue, working from hipster cafes may seem like a dream job, but do freelancers really know what they are getting themselves into? Also, will this be good for the country in the long run?"

Despite the growing popularity of freelancing, long term financial sustainability remains one of the critical concerns for freelancers, with 66% of respondents to the survey not having a retirement plan, while 33% do not have a personal savings plan. These findings support EPF's recent call to the government for more incentives under retirement savings schemes.

Subsequently, 65% of freelancers ranked government recognition of freelancing as a formal career as the top of their Budget wish-list, indicating that this would enable them to apply for social security, loans and capital that would facilitate their financial sustainability.

Wong, whose efforts in EPF's Strategy Management Department includes working closely with the Malaysian government on policy formulation for financial protection in old age explained, "It is worrying that despite the growth of the freelancing economy in the country, these professionals do not save for retirement, as about 70% of Malaysians are below the global levels of acceptable financial literacy rates.

"It is important that freelancers should start equipping themselves with sound financial management knowledge as they are at higher risk of not having a long term retirement plan compared to full time employees," said Wong.