What is the future of work for Southeast Asia’s Millennials?


With technology and the internet, employers and freelancers can build better relationships for Millenials to get the independence they crave, and the steady growth small companies need

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The International Labour Organization (ILO) doesn’t mince words on the state of global youth unemployment. In its recent report, Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013, the organisation highlighted that as many as 73 million young people are estimated to be unemployed in 2013.

In Southeast Asia where the youth are five times more likely to be unemployed than adults, ILO likewise does not paint a very rosy picture: “On current projections, the regional youth unemployment rates will rise from 13.3 per cent in 2013 to above 14 per cent by 2017.”

Despite this, millennials continue to hold very strong opinions about the work they do, the company they work in, and the future of employment in the world.

For Millennials, not just any job will do
In a two-year global generational study conducted by PwC with the University of Southern California and the London Business School and released in 2013 which they tout as the largest and most comprehensive assessment of millennial attitudes, researchers stressed the necessity of workplace evolution to cater to the generation.

Among the major learnings which surfaced from the study were that: “Millennials value work-life balance, and the majority of them are unwilling to commit to making their work lives an exclusive priority, even with the promise of substantial compensation later on”, and that “Millennials want more flexibility, the opportunity to shift hours — to start their work days later, for example, or put in time at night, if necessary.” Likewise, they also “place a high priority on workplace culture and desire a work environment that emphasises teamwork and a sense of community”.

“Given the importance of the contingent workforce now and in the future, organisations must understand how they can address the needs of millennials, who want greater flexibility in their schedules and career progression, while meeting the needs of the business,” stressed the study. “Leveraging Millennials as contingent workers will provide organisations better control over variable costs, and enable a more flexible, dynamic workforce that is able to scale up or down to meet the changing needs of the organisation,” it added.

But this does mean that Millennials do not believe in the capability of businesses to do good. In Deloitte’s The Millennial Survey 2014, a key finding was that “almost 90 per cent of Millennials feel business could do ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’ to address unemployment while roughly three-quarters say the same about inequality of incomes and wealth.” Also, Millennials believe that businesses can impact  resource scarcity and climate change — among the many other problems which society faces.

However, the exodus of Millennials from large companies could be due to a growing mistrust in these businesses’ ability to address these problems and commitment to sustainability and ethical practices. The study reports: “Many of the most talented members of the millennial generation decide to leave large organisations and instead work for themselves. Roughly 70 percent of Millennials see themselves as working independently at some point, rather than being employed within a traditional organisational structure.”

This only proves the growing desire of this generation to make a difference in the world, which they believe should be measured “in terms of more than just its financial performance, with a focus on improving society among the most important things it should seek to achieve”.

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And if there’s any hope in this world, this generation is its biggest champion: “Millennials are also charitable and keen to participate in ‘public life’: 63 per cent of Millennials donate to charities, 43 per cent actively volunteer or are members of community organisations, and 52 per cent have signed petitions.”

Careers that empower the new generation of professionals
The largest percentage of Freelancer.com members are Millennials — the new generation of professionals discovering the potential of online work. Providing the flexibility of time and career development, online freelancing websites like our platform Freelancer.com enable them to work when they want and where they want.

As the pWc’s NextGen study highlights: “Given the importance of the contingent workforce now and in the future, organisations must understand how they can address the needs of Millennials, who want greater flexibility in their schedules and career progression, while meeting the needs of the business. Leveraging Millennials as contingent workers will provide organisations better control over variable costs, and enable a more flexible, dynamic workforce that is able to scale up or down to meet the changing needs of the organisation.”

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With technology and the internet as the main drivers which connect tomorrow’s employers and freelancers, these two parties can build better professional relationships which allow Millenials the independence that they crave, and the steady growth that small companies need. If this is the inevitable evolution of work for this generation, then both the public and private sector must be prepared to collaborate to provide a sustainable way of life for its citizens. (We’re already seeing it happen in the Philippines, a top BPO country, with Senator Bam Aquino championing the cause of online freelancers in the Philippine Senate.)

Perhaps, the crisis the ILO has predicted is just the other side of the coin — its reverse an opportunity that’s waiting to be seized.

The views expressed are of the author, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them.

e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested to share your point of view, please send us an email to writers[at]e27[dot]co

Evan Tan

Evan Tan is the Regional Director for Southeast Asia of Freelancer.com, the world’s largest freelancing and crowdsourcing marketplace by number of users and projects. The platform connects over 13,000,000 employers and freelancers globally from over 247 countries, regions and territories. Through the marketplace, employers can hire skilled professionals from around the world to do work in a range of areas, including, software development, writing, design, engineering, the sciences, sales, marketing, accounting and legal services.

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