Brunei Gig Economy: A Way Out for Unemployment for Millenials & Gen Z

Exploring Opportunities with the Gig Economy

The future of employment for Bruneian youths might just come from self-employment.

Unemployment in Brunei is a topic that has received quite a bit of attention in the Sultanate over the last five years with rates of joblessness having risen steadily from 6.9% in 2014 to 9.25% in 2019, as indicated by government data from the Department of Statistics, Economic Planning and Development (JPKE). Perhaps the most concerning finding from this 2017 Labour Force Survey is that out of the 19,200 unemployed people, 28.4% were youth – the highest amongst ASEAN countries.

The cause for concern is that all across the world, high youth unemployment is invariably correlated with shrinking economies, low productivity and in some extreme cases, social unrest. For modern societies to ensure continued growth and the hope of prosperity, the youth have an important and unavoidable role to play: to renew, refresh and replenish the country by advancing the technology, the education, the economy, the politics, and the peace of the society.

This can only be achieved by enabling the youth to have access to opportunities for quality employment, but with an oversaturated public sector and a flagging private sector sluggishly trying to adapt to technological advancement, is the gig economy the best answer to getting Bruneian Millennials and Gen-Zers into the job market? Here are four reasons why we think it could be:

  1. The 9-5 is losing popularity for youth

    While they may come with a number of benefits, the one thing that most regular 9-to-5 jobs don’t include is flexibility. Generally, the employee signs a contract and is locked into a deal that obligates them to work in a specified location, for a specified reward, on specified days, at specified times, and under a whole list of specified conditions. A growing number of millennials are resisting the lures of the traditional job market in favour of greater autonomy of their own lives and working conditions, and the gig economy provides that.

    It exchanges working hours for project timelines, where the worker can station themselves wherever they like and complete the given tasks in whatever fashion. So for a graphic designer living in Kuala Belait without access to a car, they are enabled access to the Bandar job market without having to commute, via the internet. They would also be enabled to do work for different clients, as opposed to being obligated to a single employer, giving them the ability to increase their income and scope of work (perhaps even enter a different industry). These sorts of freedoms were unthinkable for the workforce of 20 years ago, but are entirely possible today. The youth are exchanging long-term jobs for short-term roles with long-term careers.

  2. It lowers costs for entrepreneurs

    In response to the aforementioned unemployment figures in Brunei, the strategy outlined by the government was to support the growth of the private sector with the hopes that it would be able to provide jobs for the youth. The i-Ready Apprenticeship scheme was introduced to improve employability and marketability of graduates to develop the workforce, and resources were dedicated to give small and medium enterprises the chance to establish themselves.

    What the gig economy provides for entrepreneurs is the ability to avoid having to pay for the onboarding costs of new full-time employees. Instead, would be employers can pay a fair salary for fair work, on a gig basis. Think about the amount of money a tech startup like Dotroot (the company that made the queuing app used in most Brunei government buildings) could save by not having to pay for a staff computer, Adobe creative suite, and the countless other expenses needed to hire a graphic designer just to complete a once-off UI (User interface) for the app.

    Alternatively, look at the number of local food delivery companies that have been established since Covid-19 forced social distancing measures. GoMamam quickly built up a list of around 90 delivery drivers to cope with the heightened demands for takeaways. While a new company like that could afford 90 gig employees who get paid only for the work they do, hiring 90 full-time dispatchers would definitely not have been an option.

    It’s clear to see that instead of having to pay thousands of dollars just to hire and equip a staff member, smaller companies are able to pay just for the services they need in order to establish themselves and be in a position to grow. Now multiply these factors across a country with hundreds of new startups who all have greater chances of survival – it equals a healthier economy for workers and businesses.

  3. Multiple Skills = Multiple Rewards

    In the traditional job market, employees are hired based on skills and qualifications related to a certain scope of work. The IT guys handle IT stuff, the marketing team handle marketing work, and the remuneration follows accordingly. What this fails to enable is for workers with varied skillsets to monetise those skills within the frameworks of the business. Not to mention the monotony of having the same work scope for the duration of a decades-long career.

    However, one important fact about the gig economy is the ability to monetise the different skills and passions that the gig worker possesses. Look at Kristal FM’s DJ Nadzri Harif. He’s a multi-hyphenated guy with multiple revenue streams to profit off.

    Nadzri’s passions are public speaking, fitness, and doing magic. Using the inherent flexibility of the gig economy, he works a number of gigs for a few hours each week, and lives a richer, more scalable lifestyle. Nadzri does a three hour radio show every morning, coaches fitness classes throughout the day, and when hired, does MC work and/or magic at corporate and private events. In this way, each craft he has honed over the course of life, he is able to market and profit from independently.

  4. Local Workers, Global Job Market

    Because much of the gig economy is enabled by the internet, wherever the internet reaches, a skilled Brunei youth with an internet connection is able to compete for jobs. The birth of freelancing platforms like Fiverr and Upwork (internationally) and Sribuza (locally) have created a global market of businesses and independent professionals who are able to connect and collaborate remotely. These are not small-time networks for exchange of goods and services; Upwork alone has over 12 million registered freelancers and five million registered clients. Not only are millions of jobs posted and completed every year, their annual business is worth US$1 billion.

    Looking again at GoMamam, where educational qualifications isn’t a factor for becoming a delivery dispatcher (all you need is a valid driver’s license and access to an insured car), gig employees choose when they want to do shifts and earn an average of $800 per month. That’s quite an amount for an entry-level type of job, and it gives young Bruneians a great opportunity for well-paying, honest employment opportunities.

    What the gig economy presents for young, skilled individuals in Brunei is a situation where their employability is not confined to the borders of the country. For literally any work that can be done remotely, there are opportunities for Bruneian youth to capitalise. And even for those without high-level skills, the gig economy presents alternative opportunities for decent income locally, all interfaced through digital platforms.


Therefore, so long as the education system in Brunei equips the youth with the right skills, and young entrepreneurs are continually encouraged to establish businesses leveraging the digital economy, there is a growing world of job opportunities (both local and abroad) that rest not on the ability of the public sector to provide them, but on the desire of the local workforce to connect to the global digital economy.