The Business

Freelance Statistics and Trends in Singapore: A Detailed Look

How many freelancers are there in Singapore? And which freelance jobs are most popular?

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In Singapore, the term “freelancer” generally refers to a person who earns an income by personally providing services to others on a project basis.

For example, a freelance photographer may be engaged to take photos on a couple’s wedding day, while a freelance writer may be engaged to write an article for a client.

Freelancers run their own businesses instead of being employed by an organisation. They also commonly take on work from multiple clients at a time.

Given the perks of being a freelancer, such as being able to “be your own boss” and have greater control over your time and work hours, freelancing has been gaining popularity in Singapore over the past few years.

This is backed by our review of various studies on the freelancing industry in Singapore. And in this post, we’ll be sharing some of the freelancing statistics and trends that we’ve uncovered.

Read on to learn:

Let’s dive in!

How Many Freelancers and Self-Employed Persons Are There in Singapore?

Own account workers

The Singapore Ministry of Manpower (MOM) conducts an annual Comprehensive Labour Force Survey to gather comprehensive data on Singapore’s labour market.

This includes the number of people who are engaged in “own account work”, or people who run their own businesses without engaging any staff such as freelancers.

And in the 2020 edition of the Comprehensive Labour Force Survey, it was reported that around 228,200 people regularly engaged in own account work between June 2019 and June 2020.

This was an increase from the figure of 211,000 in the 2019 edition of the same survey. It also represented an increase in own account workers from 8.8% of the resident workforce to 9.7%.

Of these 228,200 own account workers, 190,900 or 84% of them were primary own account workers. This meant that their own account work was their main job.

The remaining 37,300 (or 16% of) own account workers were secondary own account workers. In other words, they did own account work while having another main job.

Self-employed persons

Self-employed persons include not just own account workers, but also those who hire employees to help run the businesses that they’ve started.

As stated in the MOM’s Comprehensive Labour Force Survey 2020, the percentage of self-employed persons in Singapore increased from 13.5% of the resident workforce in June 2019 to 14.7% in June 2020.

Similarly, the economic statistics platform Trading Economics estimated that self-employed persons comprised 14.02% of Singapore’s total employment population in 2020.

The Comprehensive Labour Force Survey 2020 by the MOM also shared that the percentage of self-employed persons who held more than one job increased to 6.7% in 2020, compared to 6% in 2019.

Do Freelancers in Singapore Freelance By Choice?

According to the Comprehensive Labour Force Survey 2020 by the MOM, 190,800 or 84% of own account workers in Singapore engaged in such work by choice in 2020.

The reason for this was because such workers:

“enjoyed the flexibility and freedom associated with own account work”.

The remaining 37,400 or 16% of own account workers reported doing own account work not by choice.

This is an increase from 2019’s figure of 21,500 own account workers, though still lower than 2017’s figure of 46,700 own account workers who engaged in such work on a non-preferred basis.

Number of primary and secondary resident regular own account workers in Singapore in 2020 and whether they provide such work on a preferred or non-preferred basis

What are the Demographics of Freelancers in Singapore?

The MOM’s Comprehensive Labour Force Survey 2020 reports that of all primary own account workers in Singapore in 2020, 74% of them were aged 40 or older. Compared to 2019, there was an increase in primary own account workers who were:

  • Aged 60 or older (from 22% to 25%), or
  • Younger than 30 (from 8% to 9%).

However, there was a decrease in the number of primary own account workers aged between 30 to 59.

57% of primary own workers in Singapore in 2020 had non-tertiary qualifications (i.e. post-secondary education) or higher, and this was a slight increase from 54% in 2019.

Age groups and highest qualifications attained by resident regular primary own account workers in Singapore in 2020

What Freelance Services are Most Popular in Singapore?

In 2020, the most common occupation among primary own account workers in Singapore was private-hire car drivers on online matching platforms, according to the MOM’s Comprehensive Labour Force Survey 2020.

Other popular occupations were (as ranked in decreasing order of popularity):

    • Taxi drivers
    • Insurance sales agents/brokers
  • Real estate agents
  • Car and light goods vehicle drivers
  • Hawkers/stall holders
  • Media-related workers
  • Retail and wholesale trade managers
  • Academic private tutors
  • IT-related workers

Percentages of resident regular primary own account workers in various occupations in Singapore in 2020

A 2017 study by PayPal found that among the freelancers who get jobs from online platforms, 21% of them provided data entry and research services. Other popular services included:

  • Graphic design
  • Project management
  • Software development

How Do Freelancers in Singapore Market Themselves?

The MOM’s Comprehensive Labour Force Survey 2020 shares that popular channels used by own account workers to market themselves in 2020 include:

  • Online channels (59%)
  • Online matching platforms (37%), i.e. websites or apps that help connect buyers with gig workers offering services such as ride-hailing, goods/food delivery or creative work

Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Singapore Freelancers

The Comprehensive Labour Force Survey 2020 by the MOM also asked respondents about the challenges they faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore in 2020.

The survey revealed that 52%, or about one in two, regular own account workers experienced work challenges in 2020, compared to just 35% in 2019.

90% of those who reported facing such challenges believed that the COVID-19 pandemic had only exacerbated their situation.

Concerns included:

  • Lack of sufficient work: 52%
  • Uncertainty of finding sufficient work: 26%
  • Healthcare-related concerns: 17% (similar to the 2019 edition of the survey’s figure of 15%)
  • Retirement-related concerns: 14% (similar to the 2019 edition of the survey’s figure of 14%)
  • Getting paid late or not receiving full payment: 6%
  • Having to pay for their own training: 5%
  • Income loss when attending training: 4.5%
  • Complying with government regulations: 4.5%
  • Lack of representation during disputes: 3.5%
  • Meeting project deadlines: 1.6%

List of challenges faced by resident regular own account workers in Singapore in 2020

How did freelancers in Singapore cope with COVID-19-related challenges?

As stated in the Comprehensive Labour Force Survey 2020 by the MOM, 37% of regular own account workers opted to put in more hours to overcome the challenges faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

34% of them decided to postpone big-ticket purchases, while 20% took up multiple jobs.

Only 12% resorted to employee work.

Industry-Specific Freelance Statistics in Singapore

Arts sector

In 2017, the National Arts Council released the findings of its Arts and Culture Employment Study (ACES) 2017, which included data on arts freelancers in Singapore.

According to the study, 47% of arts workers surveyed were freelancers, with this figure being higher than the national proportion of freelancers in Singapore at that time (14%).

Compared to full-time and part-time arts workers however, arts freelancers reported being less likely to:

Media sector

The following are some highlights of a 2018 Media Freelancer Study conducted by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), which included responses from:

  • Full-time media freelancers
  • Singapore-based media and non-media companies that hire full-time media freelancers

The study estimated that there were around 4,000 full-time media freelancers in Singapore in 2017, with 66% of such freelancers working in non-media sectors.

In this regard, the Wholesale & Retail sub-sector was the largest non-media sector hirer of media freelancers.

On the other hand, the Film & Video sub-sector was the largest hirer of media freelancers for the media sector.

Among the media freelancers surveyed for the study, 59% of them were male and 88% of them had obtained tertiary qualifications.

Of the media and non-media companies surveyed, 90% of them believed that it was important for media freelancers to have media-related work experience instead of just having media-related qualifications.

Importance of media freelancers to have media qualifications and work experience according to media and non-media companies that hire media freelancers in Singapore

On the issue of getting clients, media freelancers preferred to get jobs from “channels that guaranteed high degree of trust”, such as via referrals or their personal networks.

Apart from these channels, Freelance.com, Freelancer.sg and Upwork were the top three freelance platforms that media freelancers preferred to get work from.

The top five roles that media freelancers were hired for were:

  1. Writer
  2. Production crew
  3. Actor
  4. Multimedia designer
  5. Editor

Top 5 roles in media and non-media companies that media freelancers were hired for in Singapore

The media freelancers surveyed also sought more support for issues such as:

  • Training
  • Getting jobs that have less competition from full-time media professionals
  • Getting matched to jobs through portals

Types of support needed by media freelancers in Singapore in 2017

There appears to be contradicting findings on the issue of media freelancers signing contracts.

87% of media companies and 59% of non-media companies surveyed reported that they sign contracts with freelancers, but only 42% of freelancers reported signing contracts with their clients.

However, more companies that had adopted the Tripartite Standard on the Procurement of Services from Media Freelancers shared that they signed contracts with freelancers, compared to companies that had not adopted it.

Private-hire sector

As stated in the Comprehensive Labour Force Survey 2020 by the MOM, 34% of resident regular primary own account workers in Singapore in 2020 were private-hire car drivers, making it the top occupation among such individuals at that time.

Of these private-hire car drivers, 70% were non-tertiary educated and 57% were aged 50 or older.

Private-hire car drivers also reported putting in more hours at work in 2020, possibly due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on ridership.

According to Statista, there were 71,147 private-hire cars in Singapore in 2020, a drop from 77,141 private-hire cars in 2019 as reported by Data.gov.sg.

Based on an honours thesis by Teo Yi Ning submitted to the National University of Singapore in academic year 2019/2020, private-hire drivers in Singapore can be categorised into at least three groups of workers:

  1. The enterprising worker, who diversifies their gig work among multiple hirers to maximise profits
  2. The industrious worker, who drives for only one hirer and follows a routinised work schedule (similar to employees)
  3. The transitory worker, who drives while seeking other job opportunities and displays the least loyalty to their hirer

Training and adult education sector

Based on a 2020 study by the Centre for Work & Learning of the Institute for Adult Learning Singapore, 30% of adult educators surveyed were freelancers—whom the study defined to be:

“individuals in a part-time position, or contracted as a freelancer with training as their primary role”

The median gross monthly income of the freelance adult educators surveyed was $3,500. About 72% of the freelance adult educators surveyed had at least university degree qualifications or higher.

86% of them also had at least one training qualification, compared to 81% of the full-time adult educators.

Significantly more freelance adult educators also held an Advanced Certificate in Training and Assessment (ACTA) qualification (81%) than full-time adult educators (62%).

12% of freelance adult educators surveyed did not have working experience in other industries, compared to 21% of full-time adult educators.

Freelance adult educators were found to earn “slightly more” compared to the national average of freelance professionals in sectors such as fashion, advertising and marketing and visual arts. They also enjoyed better work prospects and higher job security.

However, the study found that freelance adult educators faced less decision-making autonomy at work, and also tended to have poorer pay, career prospects and job security, compared to their full-time counterparts.

The researchers concluded that people in Singapore’s training and adult education sector started off as freelancers before transiting to full-time employment. This is based on how there were:

  • More freelance adult educators with less than two years’ experience compared to full-time adult educators,
  • But more full-time educators with more than five years’ experience compared to freelance adult educators.

When asked why they decided to become freelance adult educators, respondents cited reasons such as:

  • Having the depth of expertise and experience to teach what they know to others
  • Greater time flexibility to spend more time with their children, and structure their work around their children’s school schedules

The top five challenges cited by freelance adult educators in their line of work were:

  1. Competitiveness in the training market
  2. Uncertainty in career trajectory
  3. Access to a continuous flow of work (respondents shared about there being an “overwhelming supply of people coming into this industry” and irregular demand. Undercutting was also a frequent phenomenon, with some trainers charging as low as $20/hour)
  4. Lack of opportunities to share tips and ideas with peers and colleagues
  5. Difficulty in establishing and/or maintaining network

Takeaways from the Freelance Statistics and Trends in Singapore

As seen from the data, freelancing is gaining popularity in Singapore—especially among those who choose to freelance by choice.

From arts, media, training and adult education or even private hire, freelancers have a wide range of sectors that they can ply their trade in.

However, the life of a freelancer isn’t the easiest.

There is competition from fellow freelancers to fend off (especially since more are becoming freelancers).

Freelancers also have to contend with finding enough work to support themselves and saving enough for retirement.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has also caused the rice bowls of many freelancers to take a hit.

If you’re thinking of becoming a freelancer in Singapore, keep in mind that it won’t be an easy road ahead.

Make plans to equip yourself with the right skills and expertise before you take the plunge into the challenging but exciting world of freelancing. Good luck!

Tan Siew Ann
Fuelled by a long-standing interest in media, Siew Ann ventured into digital marketing while in law school and has not looked back since. Being inspired by the struggles that she and others have faced while freelancing in Singapore, Siew Ann started lancerX to help freelancers turn their craft into sustainable and meaningful full-time businesses.

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