• 68% of freelancers choose to freelance in spite the availability of full time jobs
  • 66% of freelancers do not have a retirement plan
  • 65% of freelancers want the government to recognise freelancing as a formal career

While 30% of the global workforce is now reported to be pursuing freelance opportunities, the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) in August 2017 reported that the Malaysian freelancing economy has also grown by 31%- making it the third largest freelancing market in the region, as reported by Freelancer.com.

To understand the growing adoption of freelancing as a career and recognising the role of freelancers in shaping the Malaysian economy, INTI International University & Colleges commissioned a first-ever survey of 300 full-time freelancers who represent professional fields of work including business, marketing, IT and computer science, culinary arts, and art and design. The survey uncovers 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. Subsequently, the significant gaps in the professional development and financial stability of these individuals, both of which were revealed in INTI’s survey, should be addressed to support the long-term sustainability of those opting to pursue such careers.”

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. 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 created 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 this strength, however, there are still gaps in the opportunities and development of freelance professionals in the country.

In spite 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 the need of more incentives under retirement savings schemes, and highlights the need for improved financial literacy among Malaysians.  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.

Other significant skills which more than 80% of freelancers found crucial to their success were communications, interpersonal skills and problem solving skills. Further to this, 58% of respondents also felt that tertiary education had not sufficiently equipped them for freelance careers, suggesting that the Malaysian education system is not doing enough to prepare this new generation of professionals who are opting to move beyond traditional employment. Bulow explains, “With continuous changes in the job landscape and economic trends, institutions of higher learning must reinvent their education offerings to meet the widening scope of employability.