The growth of homegrown small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and startups is a trend that will only stoke the local economy and ignite the talent pool.

However, those small businesses aren't necessarily growing as quickly as their needs are.

As customer demand increases, many SMEs find that they need employees with more specialised skill sets, often relating to IT, data science, digital marketing and design.

The problem is that they don't have the capital or headcount to hire those specialists full-time as soon as they are needed.

This is where the gig economy can make a big difference.

Though many people think of workers entering the gig economy as taxi drivers, couriers and food deliverers, today's gig market is rife with experienced, talented people who possess upmarket freelance skills and prefer independent work - exactly what idea-rich but cash-poor smaller businesses are looking for.

Rise of the gigs

This is especially relevant in Singapore, where freelancers make up around 10 per cent of the workforce; these workers often choose to enter the gig economy rather than the traditional workforce in order to exercise more autonomy and ownership over their work, as well as flexibility over their schedules.

In fact, a 2017 Graduate Employment Study that surveyed more than 10,000 graduates of Nanyang Technological University, National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University found more new graduates are choosing to accept freelance, part-time and contract roles than in previous years.

This changing attitude towards short-term, contract employment being a credible career path is good news for smaller businesses facing Singapore's ongoing talent crunch.

Indeed, a "job" is now a "gig" for many.

Future-proofing workforce

The shift in mindset comes at a good time for Singapore's forward planning.

Not only is it already much harder for businesses to find the skilled talent they need, but the country is predicted to lose 1 million people from the workforce by 2030.

Companies need to begin preparing for this change today: while part of the solution lies in business transformation - such as adopting automation and machine learning - the other part lies in being able to hire skilled talent on a project-by-project basis.

To begin future-proofing Singapore's workforce, the government has put in place initiatives to combat the talent crunch - for example, grants to assist mid-career workers in developing new skills.

However, upskilling workers will take time, which means access to a dedicated pool of freelance workers is key to overcoming the talent crunch.

Indeed, there are businesses that are already tapping onto gig platform services and seeing positive results.

Currently, the four types of SMEs we generally work with at ZomWork include companies doing cutting-edge work within the worlds of data science and blockchain; businesses with a repeatable business model looking for innovation; those with ad-hoc freelance work; and those with small, busy teams that look to outsource low-priority work.

Leveraging the gig economy

If engaged wisely through structured recruitment strategies and strong talent management pipelines within the HR function, the gig economy can make a real impact on companies looking to get ahead of the talent crunch, as well as those innovators whose staff is agile and lean by design.

By offering services on a contractual or project basis, businesses can embrace the "gig mindset", which can lead to changes in the way they hire and outsource work.

Additionally, the gig economy allows freelance workers with in-demand skill sets to spread their knowledge, reaching beyond just one company as they assist multiple clients who are in need of their services.

Through gig work, they can provide expertise in a truly impactful way in an otherwise anaemic environment, providing a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Benefits of gig platforms

Even if this isn't a perfect solution for the talent crunch, it is a realistic one, and one that can be implemented and utilised quickly.

Gig platforms make it fast, efficient and cost-effective for businesses to engage and pay freelance workers, alleviating the time-consuming process of independently creating advertisements, searching for a suitable freelancer for your needs and putting contracts together - with a few clicks, a gig platform can take care of all that for you.

By using gig platform services to hire freelancers while the Singaporean workforce upskills and rises to meet the demands of the growing economy, companies can scale, leverage unique skill sets they wouldn't otherwise have access to, and likely save money in the long run.

The rise of the gig economy in the face of the talent crunch is only a good thing - and one that businesses of all stripes should embrace.

First published in The Business Times.



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Topics: Gig Economy, SMEs

Jason Teo

Written by Jason Teo

Startup Launcher & General Manager at ZomWork. Passionate about strategy, innovation and the Gig Economy.