Jonathan Chee, project director with the Centre for Entrepreneurship at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, agrees with the finding. He says past studies show that large corporations like LG and Samsung used to be major recruiters but people now realise big companies are no longer reliable. They hire more people during good times and fewer people during bad times. Companies can save money by hiring freelance or short-term staff who may not be eligible for benefits and protections. As it turns out, neither big nor small companies are safe shelters for full-time employment.
“Along the line, the path of your life, you face the same risk,” says Chee. He believes the reason more people start their own businesses is because there is no longer any certainty in life and they realise it might be better to strike out on their own.
Young people’s concerns about job security and conditions are not unfounded. A report from the Statistics and Census Department in 2011 found the median monthly income for youth aged from 15 to 24 was HK$8,000 in 2011. That was basically the same as in 2001.
But freelancing and entrepreneurship are not foolproof solutions. Brian Ho quit his full-time job at Ernst & Young and joined the freelancer world a few years ago. Ho, who founded the Hong Kong Freelancer Network, says freelancing allows talented people with in-demand skills to fill gaps for those skills in the market.
The Network first appeared as a Facebook page in 2012 for people to post and apply for freelance jobs. Although it is open to all freelancers, most of the job postings are for programmers and graphic designers.
Ho, who now teaches in the School of Design at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, says freelancers have to rely on themselves. Whenever they take a job, they are under a lot of pressure. Sometimes, freelancers simply have no one to talk to or to ask for help from. “The biggest fear for a freelancer is isolation,” Ho wrote in the introduction to his Network website.
While people commonly believe being a freelancer means having control of one’s own life, Ho explains you can also run out of money in a short period of time or not get any jobs for more than a year. “Freelancing is not for all people,” says Ho.
Christopher Hugentobler, a co-founder of the HKU Alumni Entrepreneurs Club, also points out the potential pitfalls of working for yourself. “It’s very sexy to talk about young entrepreneurs,” says Hugentobler, “but actually, most of those people fail.”
The HKU Alumni Entrepreneurs Club was established this year to create a community for entrepreneurs who graduated from the University of Hong Kong to share their experiences and business frameworks.
Hugentobler, himself a fresh graduate, is realistic and serious about entrepreneurship. He points out many people are not aware of the risks entrepreneurs take when they establish companies and work for years without income.
For him, a successful entrepreneur needs to be a hustler as well as being creative and highly competent. She or he has to be able to respond to changing events around them and communicate with people.