From Grab driver to software engineer: Why gig economy companies are upgrading their



Gig workers without marketable skills could lose out if companies change their hiring policy, said National University of Singapore Business School’s Professor Sumit Agarwal in a commentary for CNA earlier this year.

“Ideally, there would be schemes for gig workers to undergo training in skills tailored to their fields of freelance work that creates potential for progress within the sector,” he wrote. 

He suggested such workers could learn how to generate business leads and start their own gig business, noting this would be in line with the Government’s push to build a “skilled, relevant and future-ready workforce”. 

Simply making the time for skills upgrading is a tall order for many, said MP Yeo Wan Ling (PAP-Pasir Ris-Punggol). 

Ms Yeo – an adviser to the NPHVA, National Taxi Association and National Delivery Champions Association, which are affiliated with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) – said this is especially so for gig workers, with their less predictable work schedules. 

“This makes it challenging for gig workers to take on conventional training programmes as this would call for sacrifices in earnings, including future earnings, as incentives are dependent on the regularity and volume of work activity,” she said. 

One of the priorities for NTUC and its associations is making training possible for self-employed people, she said. 

“This includes catering for training that accommodates the work patterns of gig workers, for example, in two-hour sessions during the lull periods of the day.” 

Ms Yeo also pointed to training in the form of “quality online courses”, such as the NPHVA’s initiative to provide and sponsor access to more than 60 online courses in areas such as safe driving and customer care and business fundamentals. 

Companies like Grab or Deliveroo may be offering such upgrading opportunities for gig workers out of a sense of social responsibility, said career coach Adrian Choo.

These firms may be anticipating the longer-term career needs of their workers, who may not be able to drive passengers or deliver food indefinitely, noted the chief executive of career consulting firm Career Agility International.

Mr Choo notes that doing so also addresses the issue of underemployment – defined by the Manpower Ministry as the “underutilisation of the productive capacity of the labour force”. 

“So we have graduates who train for managerial positions, but they end up driving for Grab, and they don’t progress. And then when they’re 40 years old and they go out and look for jobs, they don’t have the relevant skills,” he said. 

This in turn becomes a problem, not just for gig workers, but for the economy, said Mr Choo, pointing to a potential “huge skill supply gap”.

Upgrading opportunities should be tailored to the individual, and this requires longer-term career planning, he adds.

“The challenge is that the skills they have graduating from school, by the time they hit the job market their skills are not really relevant,” he said. 

As such, skills and training need to be continually updated, he said. 

For Mr Farhan, his new job is very different from what was he used to. The nature of the job means he is constantly being challenged, and as such he does not get too comfortable, he said. 

He also enjoys the opportunity to learn from his more experienced colleagues, whom he treats as mentors.

“With that, at least I have an investment in myself,” he said. “In five to 10 years’ time, I will still continue to grow.”


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