More avenues for freelancers, contract workers to upgrade skills

July 11, 20169:31 am584 views
More avenues for freelancers, contract workers to upgrade skills
Freelancer Livy Von Gon doing video editing (Photo: mm2 entertainment)

SINGAPORE: Contract staff and freelancers – many see them as ‘second class’ workers who do not have as many benefits as permanent staff. But increasingly, more attention is being paid to their training needs, especially with developments like an attachment programme for freelancers, and companies investing in courses for contract staff.

The new “Attach-and-Train” Programme sees junior freelancers in the creative industry being attached to companies and going through on-the-job training with a mentor. Other highlights include workshops for freelancers to gain critical industry skills in areas such as finance and time management.

One freelancer benefiting from the programme is 26-year-old Livy Von Goh. During her attachment to mm2 entertainment, a producer of movie and television content, she was involved in several projects. This included putting together an online Chinese singing competition, where she hosted auditions, designed promotional activities and even made props.

“I have more experience on production sets and less on the producing side of things, so this was an opportunity for me to get to know what sponsorship is like for films, producing, finding distribution,” said Ms Von Goh.

As a freelancer for two years, she added that it is hard to get such chances to upgrade her skills. “Zero training. I trained myself or you just train on the job. I would say most of my training came from the internet, a lot of self-teaching went on, books, you try to read up as much as you can, talk to people who are maybe doing better jobs than you and get advice,” she said. “That was my main form of training and it was not enough.”

Ms Livy Von Goh working on-site during an event (Photo: mm2 entertainment)

SUPPORTING THE INDUSTRY

For the company, it is also a way to train the next generation of creative professionals. Said Mr Ng Say Yong, Managing Director of mm2 entertainment: “In the long term process, we feel that we have to come in to also build the industry to also pass on some skill sets, to develop some skill sets. It will be very narrow to just say we’ll just engage whoever is there.”

“If we don’t come in and also play our role, as industry leader to build these skill sets, then over time we would have no freelancers or freelance talent to tap on.”

The programme is developed by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, and supported by NTUC U Creative and the Employment and Employability Institute.

“For the creative industry, there’s about 100,000 workers, especially in the TV and media industry, so about 20 per cent of them are freelancers, so they do play an important role in the industry,” said Mr Kenneth Wong, Director of the creative and professional services division at the Singapore Workforce Development Agency.

“The employer-employee relationship is also unique. They don’t have that very traditional formal employee-employer relationship, therefore we believe some form of support system is required to actually bring these two together, to actually help the employer to also play a part in building the skills of these workers.”

VALUE-ADDED CONTRACTORS

Training is also available for another group of workers. Mr Terence Goh has been in the finance industry for more than 12 years but the 36-year-old wanted to pursue personal interests and have a slower pace of life. So he quit his job, and took on contract work for six months.

“Employers do give contractors the necessary time-frame for them to train, and for them to pick up to speed before they can work on specific projects,” he said. “Before the contract role, I was doing more of management reporting at a regional level. And the contractual work is more on operational accounting at the local context, so this is an enhanced skill set that I have, that I’m exposed to, that I can add on to my CV.”

Mr Goh is just one of the many contract workers in Singapore. In 2011, there were around 188,400 resident employees on term contracts. In 2015, this rose to about 202,400. But over the years, the numbers have hovered around 11 per cent of resident employees. In 2015, one in four was a degree holder.

And it seems companies are paying more attention to these workers. Said Ms Kirsty Luce, Director of recruitment services firm Page Personnel: “More companies are investing in their contract workforce, looking at training them, not just for the role that they’re doing, but also for the potential that they might convert, to be extended in the contract opportunity but also to bring them up to a level when they go back into the workforce to add value to the economy overall.”

TRAINING FOR ALL

Take for instance SingEx Holdings, which hires around 180 staff. The organisation provides solutions in venue management, including Singapore Expo Convention and Exhibition Centre, as well as organising exhibitions and conferences. In the last two years, it has hired around 10 contract workers, including marketing and finance professionals.

Said its director of Human Resources and Business Information Technology, Mr Michael Lim, “In the past we have always started with lot of contract workers in the rank and file space. And over time, we are starting to see more requirements in the PMET space. It’s also because of business that we are in.”

“We do events in a multitude of industries and sometimes it’s difficult to be able to get permanent hires from these industries into our project teams. To that end, what we do is we will look to the domain experts who are available in these industries, hire them in as contract workers.”

SingEx Holdings has also sent some of these workers for training on topics like goods and services tax as well as human resource analytics. “There’ll always be some of us in the organisation who may have that view, that why are we spending money and resources and time on contract workers, but as we recognise that more and more work could be done by contract workers, and that contract workers forms part of the manpower strategy that we have,” added Mr Lim.

“In order to make sure that our work can have a good balance, and get delivered in a very effective manner in terms of time and skilled labour, we need to recognise that giving these contract workers training is something that is a must.”

Mr Michael Lim at the Singapore Expo Convention and Exhibition Centre (Photo: Alice Chia)

And even for smaller firms with limited resources, technology has helped bring training to workers. FreelanceZone.com.sg, which operates an online job portal for freelancers, has 12 staff in Southeast Asia and three contract workers. It has set aside five per cent of its budget for training, which both permanent and contract staff can tap.

Said its co-founder, Mr Leon Lim: “Five years ago when we started off using contract workers, generally all the courses are offline, so we get the traditional kind of ACCA for example for accounting, or they can go for their own design courses in Singapore. Currently now as technology changes, more workers, they want an online education, because they find that they can learn at their own pace and they’re not pressurised to get a fixed certificate also.”

“For us we generally like to work together with our contractors to provide the best resources for them to benefit. So when they ask us for online education, we are more than happy to spend the money on them provided that they can show us the results from it after that.”

“INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY”

Industry members say that as companies respond to the weak economic climate and start-ups venture into new businesses, demand for contract workers and freelancers is likely to increase. Competition for and among these workers, is likely to grow too.

President of the Singapore Human Resources Institute Erman Tan, thinks it is important for them to constantly upgrade their skills. “With the current changes of the marketplace, economic structure as well as business model, we would encourage all employees, both permanent as well as contract workers to take their own training and development needs into their own care.”

“They must take it as their individual responsibility, only they know how to take care of their growing needs as well as their career development direction, “ said Mr Tan.

Employment and Employability Institute CEO Gilbert Tan added that workers should develop their own area of expertise. “It is important that every working person upgrades themselves constantly to maintain their skill sets, and especially so for people who are on annual or three-year contracts because every time you renew a contract, every time you present yourself to an employer, the employer will always look for skill sets,” he said. “Every employer out there, every HR, every line manager wants people, employees who can bring skill sets to the table.”

“And I think for an employee on permanent contract, sometimes they may assume that it is the employer’s role to train them. However for individual workers, there’s no permanent employer so it’s individuals’ role, individually to initiate their own training.”

But industry members also say it is now easier for people to take up training. For example, as one of the initiatives under national movement SkillsFuture, Singaporeans get funding to offset course fees for training to deepen their expertise. It is hoped that such initiatives will encourage workers to be more active in charting their training path.

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