ByFaizal Sohaimi

I was reading Syazuin Sazali’s article in Sinar Daily on the gig economy and higher education, Rise of the gig economy: What about our higher education dynamics? – Sinar Daily Incidentally, I am also reading Sarah Kessler’s “Gigged – The Gig Economy, the End of the Job and The Future of Work”.

It’s been playing in my mind about this “gig economy”, reluctance to go for higher studies, and youngsters becoming influencers. Adults, ie their parents (typically of Gen X) and their grandparents (typically of Baby Boomers) find it difficult to understand this. To add to the mix of complications, the authorities i.e. some dumb politician making statements about this, without going to the ground to understand the youngsters. Be that with Gen Y, Gen Z, and the millennials.

To be honest, I also can’t tell which is which! I only know that these generations had watched and observed their parents leaving for work in the morning at 6:30 am and only coming back at 9:30 pm. Day in day out, five days a week.

Lost Time, Lost Boys

To be honest, I also can’t tell which is which! I only know that these generations had watched and observed their parents leaving for work in the morning at 6:30 am and only coming back at 9:30 pm. Day in day out, five days a week. I know a friend who was still in the office at 12:00 am on weekends! Add to that the weekend travels for work. Leave by Sunday after lunch and back the following Saturday only just in time for lunch, often.

How did I know? I did that! As a travelling salesman covering the whole of Malaysia – Kedah, Pulau Pinang, Perak, Melaka, Johor, Pahang, Terengganu, Sarawak, and Sabah – and sometimes Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia too, my travel schedules were “punishing”!

I could really just forget about sitting down to help my son with his homework then.


My son observed that. His dad, an overseas graduate on scholarship, an engineer, now a sales engineer, hardly had any time at home. Yes, even on weekends. My son was not the only one. Guess how many more children were like him. Yes, from the post-Gen X generations.

Can’t you see from their perspective – good grades, good university, good grades (again), great(?) job, travels a lot, good money, crummy life? If I were them too, I’d start to wonder “What is wrong with this scenario?”

Tell Me Again Why Do I Need A Degree?

My stepson, now twenty-seven years old, when to college to read for his diploma. After graduating his father insisted that he’d continue with his degree. Two weeks after enrolling in university, he made a decision to confront his dad. He announced he quit. Not was going to quit university, he had quit. Almost earning a slap from his dad. But he’s taller and bigger than his dad now! Today, he proudly showed his dad a nice watch, a reward from his business endeavours.

My son, having observed and experienced my lousy “life balance” thing, decided that a professional’s life (at least in the traditional sense) was not for him. Though he demonstrated some artistic tendencies, there was too much discouragement from people that he needed approval, except me. I encouraged him to find his own path.

He explored his way by first being a part-time waiter while waiting for slots to be an air steward to open up. Not being successful in getting a place, he went full-time in waiting at restaurants and learned the coffee-making art. Today, he’s an “in-demand” barista, even without a proper qualification or certification. He’s the kind of barista and restaurant/cafe staff that liven up the place.

Blinded Perspective

Something that we miss when we look at higher education and career counselling — character, strength, and interest.

Many have heard of the psychometric test which is D-I-S-C, which is a test to determine a characterize people. Personality profiling. Many also missed the connection between personality to strength and chronotype. Though all of these can be learned and to some extent changed or adapted, there is an underlying profile.

A “D” person or “RED” in colour-coding, would typically be someone who is strong-willed, goal-oriented, decisive, and results-oriented among others. This colour would typically also have in their strength as an achiever, someone who is highly focused, self-assured, and looking for being significant. Though they can change and adapt as researched and written by Dr Benjamin Hardy in his book “Personality Isn’t Permanent”, these people would be natural leaders, charismatic and they have almost boundless energy – typically in the morning.

Most of the characterization of successful people was built around this kind of people. There’s only a small problem – there are less than 15% of the world’s population who are of this type!

The Rest?

To be successful, the world wants everyone, yes, you and me too, to be like this kind of person. Up early, arrive on time, have boundless energy, dress sharp, talk fast, etc. 85% of the world however have different types of personalities and corresponding strengths. That is why you don’t see everyone becoming CEOs of the Elon Musk or Steve Jobs of the world!

They ( or rather, WE) have their own ways. We learn differently, at different paces, and do things also in different ways. Not everyone wants to go to university. Not everyone wants to become an influencer. Many are quite happy being “giggers”. Many also simply do not fit into the typical business office settings, yet they provide the necessary services.

I visited a friend’s office whom at that time I engaged to do my company’s website. He was among the top students in his days at university, though he found the “regime” rather stressful. Graduated and became an engineer with an oil company. At that time, typical 9-5 hours, no flexi hours. Typically too, in cubicles. He left to set up his own web development business. Initially, it was just him and his wife. Business picked up and he needed to engage more developers.

He himself was a mechanical engineer, who had a talent for web development. As he engaged others, he realized that school leavers, gamers, and those with an interest in design and internet work could do the job, without a degree. With YouTube, Udemy, and other learning channels on the web, those that he hired educated themselves using those avenues. Forget about costly university degrees.

He rented a service apartment that had three rooms. He bought some secondhand tables, chairs, and new beanbags.  He equipped the place with a decent internet connection, and network server, and made sure that wifi would connect well at all nooks and crannies. I don’t remember if he had a printer, or not. Ah yes, he had a forty-inch LCD screen, connected to a PS4 machine – a channel to let off steam!

University? Degree?

Do we still need this? Or is it going the way of the dinosaur?

Is the gig economy the figurative asteroid that destroys higher education?

Yes, and no; from my perspective. Education needs revamp, reorganization, and a serious (and fun) re-look. From way down at the kindies, all the way up to research levels. Honestly, I don’t know if this is happening. I have only heard here and there that changes are taking place.

I know that Professor Dato’ Dr Noor Azizi Ismail and Dr Adam Adieza of Universiti Malaysia Kelantan Business School are well-connected and exposed outside academia. These highly learned teachers are bringing their experience and knowledge outside academia i.e. into the business (real) world into academia. The last time I was involved with some part of the university education was with UTM Space. The students in many colleges, polytechnics, and universities across Malaysia were exposed to the workings of the oil & gas industry.

What About Those Who Are Not Varsity-Smart?

Honestly, the person who had the idea of propagating so many universities in Malaysia needs to be put in a dungeon. When I left Malaysia to study overseas, thirty-five years ago, there were only five or six universities in Malaysia. Today, I lost count. I read somewhere that Malaysia today produces 350,000 new graduates annually, with 160,000 not able to find a job. There is something seriously “stupid” with these numbers. Yet we still want more to get into universities! According to Einstein’s definition, this is worse than madness!

I don’t know if we still have that science versus art stream in secondary schools, where students were shoved into the science stream just to make up the number. We ended up with engineers who did not want to be engineers! Suffered as engineers (though they are smart), and after a few short years, left to become something else – nothing to do with engineering!

I am heartened that the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), which is the kind of training formal, non-formal, and informal learning that prepares young people with the knowledge and skills required in the world of work is being given serious attention in Malaysia now.

We have to look at and discuss with the individuals on their future. No more shoving into the science stream. No more shoving into engineering or medical schools. We need to understand them and guide them. This has to be done at the school level. We need to have counsellors who have a decent grasp of the current and future work and markets. Not like the counsellor when I was at school who didn’t even know the word “actuary”, let alone what people do in that line of work/profession.

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