Millennials prefer freedom from office, take to freelancing

By Linh Do   October 3, 2019 | 05:02 pm PT
Millennials prefer freedom from office, take to freelancing
Fashion illustrator and textile designer Bui Thuy An works at a café. Photo courtesy of Bui Thuy An.
Opting out of traditional eight-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week office work, many Vietnamese are now looking to freelance, reflecting a global trend.

Dao Ba Ban, a freelance architect, said in his field finding a full-time job is not difficult, but finding the right environment for career development is not easy. His former employer had so many problems that he decided to quit and become a freelancer a few years ago, he explained.

"Freelancing is great for capable people. You can control your time, learn how to work on your own as well as with others, and bring home every dong you make."

For Trung Doan, who has been freelancing off and on as an education consultant for the last three years, it offers new challenges and opportunities unavailable in the traditional market, and its biggest advantage is flexible timing.

Yet, like everything else, working on one’s own has its downsides. Ban said inexperienced freelancers could be challenged by lack of discipline, mentors and guidance.

But he earns more money by working independently for a range of clients, whom he often finds through his friendship networks. "My work is stable and has potential for growth, so I’ll continue to freelance."

Yet, whether or not the market offers freelance work, many Vietnamese do not want to work full-time.

According to a survey titled "How Vietnamese want to work" done in July by global workforce solutions company ManpowerGroup, 87 percent of jobseekers aged 18-65 in almost all fields prefer something other than a permanent full-time job such as gig work (like Grab drivers), project work, and part-time work.   

This is almost double the global figure. In its "2018 Global Candidate Preferences Survey", ManpowerGroup also asked 18,000 job seekers in 24 markets worldwide how they want to work, and 45 percent said they prefer something other than permanent full-time work.

Unlike their global counterparts whose preference for alternative work is most influenced by entrepreneurial pursuits, the key reason for Vietnamese job seekers’ interest is autonomy. Other factors include time for other business plans and time for family.

For alternative work, Vietnamese prefer searching for it from peers, as Ban’s case illustrates.      

Explaining this "inevitable" trend in Vietnam and elsewhere, Simon Matthews, Country Manager of ManpowerGroup in Vietnam, Thailand and the Middle East, told VnExpress International that Vietnam is an emerging market with a young and dynamic workforce which values flexibility in work and life.

According to ManpowerGroup’s 2018 Total Workforce Index, Vietnam has a workforce of over 57 million with 70 percent coming from the Y generation (commonly called millennials, born between 1976 and 1995) and Z generation (born after 1995). And 57 percent of this workforce is engaged in contingent, non-full-time work.

Technological advances also mean people can now work anywhere, anytime and can handle multiple jobs simultaneously to earn a living. This is true worldwide and even more so in emerging markets, Matthews said.

And as he shows, freelancing is a solid option these days.

Trung, who now works full-time as Country Director for U.S. high school consulting services website and consults for Canada’s University of Regina, said he still needs to work full-time to get more management experience, but might return to independent consultancy later on.

In Trung’s field, many senior professionals work as independent consultants. With Vietnam being an important global source for international students, foreign institutions come looking for various types of consultancy.

Vietnamese jobseekers’ demands and the large contingent workforce mean organizations should create diverse alternative work models to attract and keep talent amidst a severe talent shortage, Matthews said.

Recruiters should offer work projects based on performance for non-full-time employees, flexible workplaces for full-time staff, and satisfy the different needs of talent coming from different generations, Matthews suggested.

For instance, for millennials, good pay, balancing work and life and learning new skills are the three most important reasons for working.

In fact, people who prefer alternative work tend to look for opportunities to upgrade their skills, and so employers should provide training to both full-time and other types of personnel.

Digging deep, spreading wide  

This idea of learning new skills and constantly exploring wide and deep one’s chosen field makes sense to Bui Thuy An, a freelancer in fashion illustration and textile design.

Freelancing is more common in fashion illustration and textile design than in fashion design, she said, adding that most foreign fashion illustrators and surface pattern designers that she knows are freelancers. 

It is through freelancing that this fashion design graduate from the Hanoi University of Industrial Fine Arts has found the opportunities to do what she loves and explore new things.

A close friend, who was working remotely in Vietnam for an European IT company, suggested that she should freelance and offered her some advice on remote and freelancing work.

An then linked her online portfolio, which she had created to apply for a master’s program, to her Linkedin account. "My very first client from America found me on Linkedin."

At first she received orders in fashion design, but later more and more clients offered projects in her dream field of fashion illustration.

Now she has clients from all five continents and works mostly in fashion illustration plus what was once a new field for her: textile design.

Working independently continues to open up new horizons for An now, who said she realizes everyday there is still so much more to learn.

Instead of having no mentors as Ban cautions, An finds a constant source of guidance and inspiration in a former art teacher.

"If I had known opportunities such as what I have now existed, I would certainly have started freelancing right during college or even earlier."

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