Gig Economy in Asia: Gig Economy Hotspot Hong Kong

With over 10 years’ of experience working in the IT and technology recruitment industry, Vivian is known for her impeccable service delivery of customised tech recruitment solutions for both corporate companies and start-ups. Vivian’s strong adaptability and communication skills enable her to perform well both as an individual recruiter, as well as team manager. Her strong passion and acumen for technology enables Vivian to excel in this rapidly changing technology space, delivering for companies looking to digitise their businesses. Vivian joined CXC in January 2020 as a Practice Director for the Hong Kong business. Recently, we spoke to her about the increasingly large gig economy in Hong Kong as compared to the rest of Asia, and the forces driving talent markets.

Q: Hi Vivian, thank you for sitting down with us today. We know that, compared to other countries in Asia, Hong Kong is known as the gig economy hotspot. Why do you think this is so? Why is there such a big discrepancy compared to rest of the region? 

A: Hong Kong is definitely embracing the concepts of gig economy. In fact, according to the “2018 PERSOLKELLY APAC Workforce Insights – Gig Economy” survey, 55% respondents based in Hong Kong reported they are interested in flexible contract-based roles instead of a traditional, permanent full-time positions. This compares to 43% for the entire Asia-Pacific region and, by country, 37% in Australia, 36% in both India and Malaysia, and 47% in Singapore.

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities; people are used to having the ultimate convenience when it comes to daily chores. Thus, the demand for on-demand workers across all personal services industries has been rapidly increasing, e.g. transportation and food delivery industries.

From a corporate point-of-view, Hong Kong is the Asia hub for retail, travel, financial service, and trading and logistics. Due to the recent political changes, certain industries in Hong Kong suffered a decline in revenue and overall confidence levels. During the October golden week, Hong Kong suffered an estimated HKD2.8B loss in revenue, with more than 50% drop in tourism/visitors. Furthermore, the trading war between the US and China has placed Hong Kong in an unfavourable position as a middleman –  according to the Hong Kong government statistics,  said about 17% (US$7.6 billion) of Chinese exports passed through the Hong Kong to the US, and about 9% (USD$1 billion) of US exports came via Hong Kong to mainland China. These actions make up almost 1.5% of Hong Kong’s overall trade.

Also, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the global economy. As a one of the key global financial hubs, it is inevitable Hong Kong will face employment challenges. We have already seen companies doing their best to maintain maximum flexibility on resource planning – contractor staff, or contingent workers, surfacing across in Financial Services, Retail and Travel/Transport markets.

Finally, the younger generation currently entering the global workforce market has significantly different needs and values, most of which focus around flexible work hours and remote work. We are witnessing a shift in the changing nature of employment globally.

Across the Asia region, Hong Kong is set to lead the way.

Q: Do you think the overall number of gig workers across Asia is set to increase?   

A: Oh, absolutely! This increase will not only reflect on service or independent workers, we can see the corporate employees getting used to work in remote setups and demanding more flexibility. Following the boom of digital technologies, people can reach each other from anywhere in the world, at any time – remote work and work-from-home (WFH) will become a norm.

Q: According to your knowledge, which industries in Hong Kong are currently employing the most gig workers?  

Personally, I can see a lot of gig workers being employed across the Event Management, Hospitality, and Food Service industries. JobDoh, a Hong Kong based startup that focuses on matching the gig workers to jobs by relying on their AI-based system, has disclosed that majority of their users are being placed in the above-mentioned industries.

Q: How has the Hong Kong talent market changed in the past 10 years? What were some of the biggest drivers of change? 

Technology has been a major driver of change for the global talent market. It has reshaped global demand for talent, encouraging companies to search for workers skilled in Cloud Migration, DevOps, Cyber Security, Data Engineering and Science, as well as those experienced in Agile Methodology, Full stack.

As a leading global financial center, Hong Kong is a service-oriented economy characterised by its low taxation, almost free port trade, and well established international financial market built on a long history of trade and commerce. Hong Kong is the freest economy in the world – starting a business is easy and safe. Since 2014, Hong Kong startup scene has rapidly grown, with majority of startups operating in E-commerce (22%) and FinTech (12%) sectors.

The common goal shared by companies is to become technology-ready and technologically competitive – technology and innovation are definitely the biggest drivers of change.

Q: What are the benefits of being a gig worker in Hong Kong? How are they protected?

A: Gig work = Flexibility.

The flexibility includes both time flexibility and income flexibility. For example, younger couples tend to have more family obligations; for them, time flexibility is extremely important when balancing work and home activities. Being a gig worker means you can take on as much work as you like and earn well; however, it can be unstable if the competition is high or if the nature of work doesn’t pay well.

In Hong Kong, there is a hourly minimum wage in place to protect gig workers, but the minimum wage, compared to the high cost of living, is considerably lower. The basic rule to gig work is to join as many social platforms and groups as possible to get maximum exposure.

Q: As the world of work evolves, workers seem to be gaining more control around employment opportunities. With over 10 years of experience yourself, what do you see workers looking for when choosing their potential employer? 

Sooner or later we will all have to push ourselves to adapt faster and better. Technology is driving the change of how work is being performed, by whom and where. Process-based work is being replaced by technology, employees are expected bring extra value to the businesses, emphasis is put on EQ, creativity is the key competitive element people possess over computers – I anticipate the future work will largely reflect these elements.

Looking over the last 10 years of my personal work experience, the emphasis is being placed on the working culture. Younger generations view the job beyond the salary. They favour other elements such as aligning the job with their true passion and having positive impact the job has on the society.

Q: What would be your advice for someone looking to join the gig economy in Hong Kong? 

Definitely take into account the cost of living in Hong Kong. According Mercer’s 25th Annual Cost of Living Survey, Hong Kong ranks as one of the most expensive locations for employees working abroad. Choose wisely what work you take on when moving to Hong Kong, and do take into account the relatively higher cost of rental and smaller living space. However, there are a lot of upsides working in Hong Kong. The city is designed to work with high efficiency in business environment. From airport, ground transportation, transparency in bureaucracy in government sectors, and efficiency in banking and internet services, as well as a highly diversified economy and industries, Hong Kong provides the ultimate efficiency for people who enjoy flexibility and various work opportunities.