Companies Missing Out on Asian Gig Workforce Opportunity

Image credit: iStockphoto/Konstantin Aksenov

The Asian workforce is ready to go gig.

Driven by economic uncertainty and rising unemployment rates, short-term contingent work arrangement (or gig) is gaining attention among the Asia workforce and offering real economic benefits.

According to independent research and consulting firm Kapronasia, the transaction volume of the gig economy is expected to grow by a 17% compound annual growth rate with a gross volume to reach USD 455 billion by 2023 — roughly four-fifths of Thailand’s GDP in 2019.

Asia may still be playing catch up in this growing gig economy, but it is rapidly growing, particularly on the supply side.

Explaining the gig-onomics

For many who lost their full-time employment (FTE) payroll, the gig economy has been a welcome cushion from unemployment, noted Sumit Agarwal, professor of finance, economics, and real estate at the National University of Singapore. For Generation Z, the gig workforce also aligns with their need for instant recognition and work-life balance.

High education levels, 60% of the population under 30, and a predominantly English-speaking culture are helping the Southeast Asia region rapidly become a gig-economy hotspot for some international clients, Kapronasia’s report noted.

“In Asia, the Philippines is the largest and fastest-growing market for the gig workforce,” said Muna Munirah Wan Nordin, chief executive officer at Qwork, a Malaysia-based staffing and recruitment platform for the gig economy.

Qwork matches talents for businesses in the typical gig economy like logistics, food and beverage, hospitality, and e-commerce. But she said, “tech workers and other highly skilled workers also started taking up gigs during the pandemic to earn extra money.”

Also, a supporter of the gig workforce, Qwork hires about 30% of its workforce from the gig economy monthly. Nordin said the gig workers support the company’s operations, technology, and marketing.

Although gig jobs are typically physical labor work, Gartner’s senior director analyst Matthias Graf noted the skill spectrum of gig workers is widening to data entry, research, and social media marketing.

The workforce-workplace gap

With the rising supply of gig workforce and demand from international employers, is Asia's workplace ready to compete for talents in this gig movement? The answer appears to be negative.

“The buying pattern that we have seen is that companies will start looking for alternatives when the need presents itself,” said Nordin. “Nevertheless, the articulation that the company owners/stakeholders need to be able to arrive at ‘gig workforce’ presents a huge gap.”

To navigate the rising gig economy and remain competitive for talents, experts said Asia business leaders needed to rethink the workplace in three major dimensions: workforce planning, technologies, and culture.

“Contingent workers offer an important way for organizations to fill skill gaps and increase productivity, but HR needs a new workforce planning approach to leverage these workers as they become more mainstream,” noted Graf in a blog in Gartner.

Planning workforce around work

Though it may sound contradictory, given the rising importance of employee experiences, Graf said planning a workforce around work and capabilities instead of people and capacities is essential preparation for the gig workforce.

“Workforce planning typically centers on identifying and installing the people and capacities required for business strategy,” he said. “But this long-term, static approach is out of step with structural changes in work and workforces.”

With business models constantly changing and more work is broken down into a series of smaller jobs — especially for the innovations and agile production model — Graf said workforce planning should shift from a long-term static view of people and capacities into a shorter-term that focuses on flexibility and capabilities.

The focus on work and capability provides well-defined roles and expectations. With experience in hiring and managing gig workforce, Rachna Sampayo, vice president for human resources at Oracle Asia Pacific & Japan, said this is key to bring purposeful and meaningful work for gig workers.

Despite a short-term view on workforce planning, Nordin from Qwork added creating an upskilling module for gig workers is another crucial element to ensure the quality of work and performance. “Even though the gig model is on-demand and very agile, it does not sacrifice workers’ quality,” she said.

Gig science and culture

Technologies play a critical role in preparing for the workplace for the gig workforce.

Sampayo from Oracle said businesses planning workforce based on capabilities is in a better position to turn unstructured information from resumes into a structured “skillsets repository.” By applying AI, the company’s Dynamic Skills uses an algorithm to help businesses track, monitor, and identify the skills gaps in this repository, enabling them to stay agile with the changing environment.

She added building an internal skillset marketplace, like the Oracle Opportunity Marketplace, allows gig jobs to be distributed within the organization before hiring externally. For external gig talent search, Qwork’s Nordin added working closely with a gig platform that manages and matches the right skills can make managing the gig workforce easier.

Experts said workforce culture matters when stability and permanent positions are no longer an incentive for the gig workforce.

“Fostering collaboration between gig and full-time employees is critical,” said Sampayo. With flexibility high on the agenda for gig workers, she said business leaders need to make extra effort to integrate gig workers as part of the organization by providing an open, creative, and mentally safe workspace.

“Leaders must stop and rethink about the work environment they are creating,” she said. “What works today may not work tomorrow (in the gig economy).”

Sheila Lam is the contributing editor of DigitalWorkforceTrends. Covering IT for 20 years as a journalist, she has witnessed the emergence, hype, and maturity of different technologies, but is always excited with what's next. You can reach her at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/Konstantin Aksenov