What’s So Odd about Odd Jobs?

What are some of the oddest jobs you can think of? Locally, we have karung gunis, getai singers, rickshaw pullers, and trishaw riders to name a few. Of course, the “new-age odd job labourer” could also easily be called a freelancer these days.

Basically, these workers are not employed by any one organisation but instead undertake a variety of odd jobs as they come. As a result, they usually enjoy little or no CPF contribution and none of the corporate benefits most of us are used to demanding (work insurance, medical coverage, retrenchment package, etc.).

Besides students who work part-time while in school, odd job labourers have traditionally been stigmatised as the segment of society that cannot be permanently (and gainfully) employed—rather than regarded as people who intentionally prefer to make their living this way.

In some cases, odd job workers even do white-collar jobs for a fraction of the costs!

It brought me some comfort last year to learn that an odd job labourer earning $850 a month could afford a 2-room HDB flat, although the article concluded with the thought that he will most likely have insufficient savings in his CPF account come retirement.

It is also a relief to know that odd job labourers are eligible for income supplements under the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) Scheme which dispenses cash bonuses to older, low wage Singaporean workers. If they have done regular and productive work for more than 6 months in the calendar year and satisfy certain criteria, odd job workers may apply to receive a Workfare Bonus.

Following the rationale of “teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”, training can also help the workers to transit from working on a more sporadic basis to finding full-time employment to enjoy the benefits that come along with it.

In his parliamentary speech in 2012, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin shared the story of Mr Mohamed Hardi who previously worked as an odd-job worker. With support from the Northwest CDC, he enrolled in a five-day Forklift Driver Training Course and found a job with at an MNC and enjoyed almost 50% increase in salary.

On a more upbeat note, the digital age has revolutionised the odd job industry in a fascinating way.

There are many interactive websites and mobile apps these days that allow a great number of unemployed or underemployed people to earn extra cash by doing random jobs for other people. It’s as simple as posting and answering an instant ad!

This global phenomenon has created unprecedented economies by generating unconventional employment opportunities via little more than internet startups. Taskrabbit, Zaarly, Skillshare and ChaCha are only some instances of these dynamic real-time market platforms that facilitate a flexible, fast and fuss-free form of service networking.

Singapore also has its very own odd job portal. TaskAmigo is now in its beta version and run by a couple of enterprising young people from SMU School of Information Systems and NUS. This communication platform connects local task listers and task providers to facilitate the sale of random ad-hoc services.

Odd jobs listed include a range of things like queuing for concert tickets, sharpening a few hundred pencils, designing PowerPoint presentations, and conducting on-ground market research. These tasks, priced between $30 and $150 SGD, can constitute some form of project-based employment.

As of last November, the platform had 2,300 users with regular active “runners” (task providers) posting regular jobs.

Apart from generating regular side income for these runners, the site also aims to foster a spirit of community, helpfulness, and accountability among locals.

 In a similar vein, Odd Job Nation caters for the same sort of ad-hoc service exchange in the States. A TimeOut New York article documents 50 ways to make money on the side in the Big Apple, including odd tasks like writing resumes for other people, hosting their pets, serving in mock trials, transforming your car into a moving billboard, starring in reality TV shows, blogging, taking pictures of babies, recycling, telling jokes, chasing balls, and doing charity.

Albeit post-May Day, let’s take the time to think about all these unusual job opportunities that are just waiting for clever and entrepreneurial individuals to seize their chance!

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