SINGAPORE: There is a reason why cab drivers are often referred to as taxi uncles.
Most are of an older generation and a huge proportion remain men. There is no data to back this but, anecdotally, in my last 10 taxi rides, all of them fit this category.
You don’t hear of any taxi youngsters. That’s because the Land Transport Authority stipulates a minimum age of 30 before you can get a Taxi Driver’s Vocational License.
But when it comes to who’s driving your Grab, it’s still more likely to be someone younger than your average taxi driver.
EASY TO BECOME A GRAB DRIVER
Prior to the introduction of the Private Hire Car Driver's Vocational License (PDVL), the entry barrier to becoming a driver with ride-hailing companies was pretty low. You just needed a driver license with at least two years of experience.
Don’t have a car? No issue. Just rent one and your rental can be deducted daily from your Grab Driver app’s wallet, which will be topped up as you earn more income driving.
In 2017, Grab claimed that between 20 to 30 per cent of its drivers in Singapore are younger than 30. There were 56,300 private-hire car drivers as of June last year, but this number may have halved after the PDVL came into effect, and with the Grab-Uber merger resulting in fewer incentives for drivers.
Outside of the ride-hailing industry, youths dominate other sectors in the growing gig economy made possible by the likes of HonestBee, Deliveroo and Zomwork, just to name a few.
With all the skilled expertise that young graduates are acquiring these days, it makes one wonder why some gravitate towards gigs that don’t utilise skills relevant to years of tertiary education.
INSTANTLY ACHIEVING AN INCOME LEVEL OTHERS TAKE YEARS TO
After National Service I worked as a member of an airline cabin crew. Besides the travelling perks, the income was attractive, and with only an O-level certification at that point in time, I was earning more than my peers.
So I understand why some youths rather drive Grab after graduation than grind their teeth at an entry-level job. Going by Grab’s income calculator, driving from 9am to 6pm on Monday to Friday would yield about S$1,015 per week. That’s S$4,060 per month.
The median salary in 2017 for a fresh polytechnic graduate stands at S$2,235 a month. Financially, it is a no-brainer to pick the job that pays more.
WORKING FREELANCE GIVES TIME TO FIGURE OUT THEIR PURPOSE
A client I’m coaching jumped into a role with one of the Big Four accounting firms for two reasons - she had graduated with a Bachelor of Accountancy and the school career advisor had nudged her in that direction.
After nine months, she became miserable in her job, performed badly consequently, and had to drag herself out of bed each day when she couldn’t see the point in what she was doing anymore.
Many people have woken to the shocking realisation that such bad first-job experiences not only damage your self-esteem, they leave a huge scratch mark on your resume. Just imagine the reviews your referral would give your future hiring manager.
Perhaps in this regard, taking gigs is not a bad way of sustaining a lifestyle while youths “figure things out”.
READ: Exhaustion, withdrawal and low performance, why diagnosing burnout is an urgent task, a commentary
University of California, Berkeley management professor Morten Hansen explored the distinction between purpose and passion, and found that purpose trumps passion in having a greater effect on job performance.
He defined purpose as “the sense that you are contributing to others, that your work has broader meaning”, while passion “is the feeling of excitement or enthusiasm you have about your work".
This does not mean that one should quit their job for the gig economy when they find no purpose in their current job. If one looked at their job as means of saving money to pursue their passion in the future, they may be more motivated to perform well at their job.
If you are just starting to figure things out at the end of your tertiary education, there are plenty of tools out there to help. They won’t give you one shining answer but at the very least, they may eliminate the noise so you focus on fewer things to experiment with.
WORK STRESS IS BECOMING UNBEARABLE
The transition from school life to working life can be traumatising. Not that we’re not used to waking up at ungodly hours to get cracking, but somehow work never seems to end.
Singapore workers are among the hardest working in the world, clocking an average of 44.9 hours per week according to Manpower Ministry data as of September last year.
Annually, that would be around more than 2,100 hours. When you contrast that with OECD 2017 data on hours worked from around the world, we outperform Japan (1,710 hours) and South Korea (2,024 hours).
The unspoken expectations at work – to answer to urgent work texts outside of work, or leaving later than your boss – adds on to work stress, making one miserable.
Employee Recognition Firm O C Tanner found that when employees feel forced to respond to work-related issues while away from work, they are 115 per cent more likely to believe their situation at work is hurting their ability to be happy in other aspects of their life.
Now, who can blame youngsters for leaving their full-time job for the flexibility that the gig economy seems to offer?
RECOGNITION COMES TOO SLOW
Where performance reviews are conducted only once a year, the drought of workplace recognition may have driven some youths to leave their employers.
Youths increasingly want their work contribution to count for something. 63 per cent of Gen Z and 54 per cent of Millennials regularly think about whether their work contribution makes a difference as compared to 40 per cent of Gen X and 36 per cent of Baby Boomers, according to research from O C Tanner.
This just shows that youths need to be constantly shown appreciation to assure them that they and their work matter to the organisation.
In contrast, gig work provides instant gratification through high financial remuneration without the pretension that the exchange is anything more than a transaction.
SHOULD YOU DRIVE A GRAB AFTER GRADUATING?
The gig economy as a whole has been a game changer for many. Elsewhere around the world, especially in many less developed countries, it has provided people with the means to lift themselves out of poverty.
In Singapore, it offers options for many – be it a lifestyle choice or just a way to support themselves while youths go through a gap year or while in-between jobs.
But it can be tempting to forget its adverse impact on your long-term career trajectory when you’re swimming in buckets of cash.
The gig economy may allow you to achieve your desired income level, but your chances for income growth is almost zero if you stay a driver unless you want to work more hours.
There are few employment benefits, and if the economy slows, your income might take a nose dive. You are also at the mercy of ride-hailing companies, their incentive programmes and algorithms.
Most importantly, professional growth is almost non-existent. You can be the number one private-hire car driver but there is nowhere to grow from there.
So should you really drive a Grab right after graduation?
Gigs should be viewed as a temporary financial pillar. So it’s okay if you’re in it while you figure out what you want to do and how you want to advance your career, or are committed to another full-time endeavour – like a postgraduate degree.
Ultimately, you are better off acquiring relevant skills and experience in a related role that gives you a better standing professionally.
The most important tip I’ve heard is to set a hard deadline on the transition to think about jumping ship. Otherwise you might be in the driver’s seat but find yourself driving only to someone else’s destination.
Adrian Tan is the co-founder of The Resource Group, a boutique HR consulting agency that specialises in HR and grant consultancy for SMEs. He is the recipient of the SHRI HR Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013 and writes regularly about HR on adriantan.com.sg.