Would upskilling improve work prospects of freelancers & the self-employed?

The pandemic’s effect on the gig economy is somewhat of a double-edged sword.

While many traditional workers have turned to freelance work to replace jobs and wages lost, the availability of work has also decreased dramatically for specific groups within the freelance fraternity. The businesses of many freelancers and other self-employed people took a beating during the pandemic. Those affected include musicians, instructors and coaches, taxi drivers and many more.

For film producer Juan Foo, the COVID-19 curbs back then impacted many production projects, including the release of his film Circle Line in 2020.

Last year, Juan shared some of the struggles faced by creatives like himself, whose projects were severely affected by the pandemic, in a podcast by ChannelNewsAsia.

For Juan, that period was not just about adapting to the ‘new normal’ of filmmaking.

As an adjunct film lecturer, Juan, who is in his 40s, had to adapt to conducting lessons remotely. It was also around then when he decided it was time for the trainer to be a trainee.

“I am a regular CET trainer, and the government has emphasised trainers being correctly certified. So, it was long overdue, and I had to really commit the time. I had the experience and qualifications, but I lacked the certification. So, I decided to take the ACLP (Advanced Certificate in Learning & Performance). With this certification, I would be able to teach in SSG-supported schools and CET private institutions.

Juan had to steal hours from the clock between his film projects and classes (as both a teacher and student).

“It was a very tough and trying time. The time commitment was the most challenging. I had to adjust the classes I teach at night to accommodate to night classes of the course I am taking. Project work outside of teaching was affected. I lost some project pitches. A lot of sacrificing of time to rest, tend to family matters, social life etc. Additionally, my family and I got Covid during one of the modules. Plus, I also hurt my neck after Covid recovery. I had to Zoom for class while bed-ridden.

Being in the creative industry, a lot of time is spent on writing and creating, which were de-prioritized so that I can spend time on the course. In the end, creative work output suffered because I need to think the longer term in my lecturing and training profession.”

Juan added one of the challenges faced not just by creatives was to identify relevant courses that would benefit them in their craft or create better work prospects in their roles within the industry. However, for that to happen, the training framework needs to be updated in tandem with changes in technology so that skill sets remain relevant.

“Training frameworks must also be upgraded and constantly audited to be relevant. But, again, I can only speak from my industry. Frameworks have been developed but much feedback has been that these were hastily cobbled together to meet a deadline, consulted by non-industry third parties and implemented.

Upskilling may not be effective, specifically in certain roles and industries, due to the size and opportunities of the market itself. Some will feel there is no point upgrading when there makes no difference in being higher-skilled since job opportunities are already maximised in the market. There’s neither room nor opportunities to grow.”

Juan further shared that the hard truth freelancers and self-employed individuals face is “if you don’t work, you don’t earn” thus, many do not see the value in taking time off work to attend courses.

“Industry-specific, market and opportunities are already limited. Training just for training’s sake is unproductive and wastes resources. There are so many SEPs who blindly take courses just because of the allowance, but whether they enter into the workforce or switch careers, no one knows.

Those who choose to pivot away from their original profession will need some form of HR support and assurance that the opportunity cost (of spending time away, learning a new craft) does not go to waste.”

In her budget debate speech in March this year, Labour MP Yeo Wan Ling spoke about the importance of partnering with companies to protect the interests and welfare of freelance and self-employed workers.

“As we seek to maintain the flexibility and ease of entry into the gig economy that current circumstances allow, it is imperative that any change we desire requires the companies and platforms providing such work to share our sentiments and work towards providing better support for our freelancers,” she said.

As gig workers are not considered employees and often not afforded the protection and benefits salaried employees enjoy, Ms Yeo, urged the tripartite partnership to “strive to support a healthy diversity of career options and sustainable, dignified livelihoods brought about by the gig economy.”

Juan looks forward to the day when these ideals are made a reality. He said, “Singapore is a hyper-pragmatic society. As much as we would like to think otherwise, sadly, paper qualifications still are highly valued.

Common HR practice is always to look at certifications and then filter to interviews. We need to be aware of the opportunities of upskilling but also be mindful it is more about staying relevant so that you remain employable in these fast-changing times and priorities.”


If you’re a freelancer or a freelancer-to-be, don’t miss out on the Freelancer Fair organised by the Freelancer and Self-Employed unit (U FSE) of NTUC.

Happening on 2 August 2022, 9 to 5 pm., the Freelancer Fair will collaborate with the 2022 Skillsfuture Festival as a programme specialist on self-employed persons and their learning needs. Participants can look forward to a day of specially curated learning activities and networking opportunities.

It’ll be a day of business networking opportunities, marketplace, and resourcing support for not just freelancers but also self-employed persons and micro-business owners.

Get the deets here:

Date: 2 August (Tuesday) 2022

Time: 9am – 5pm

Cost: FREE entry only to NTUC Union members

Venue:  Lifelong Learning Institute , Level 1 & 4, 11 Eunos Rd 8, Singapore 408601.

Pre-register: Sign up now!​
Registration will automatically close once the seats are full.

If you are not a member yet and are interested in attending the Freelancer Fair, drop them an e-mail at fseu@ntuc.org.sg



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