Friday, 6 March 2015

Oi, education! Wake up and smell the flexible coffee

By Rob Crossland, chief executive at at Optionis Group, home of Parasol & ClearSky Contractor Accounting

I have had some interesting conversations this week, one of which centred around a mature professional starting his contracting career and his children completing university. We concluded that the education system knows very little about the way of work in the 21st century. Of course this is a sweeping generic statement, and there will be pockets of knowledge, but otherwise I believe it's fair.

The ONS reported in the summer that "self employment" had risen to its highest level in 40 years, and now accounts for almost 15% of the total working population. But how many of the people coming out of schools, colleges and uni see this as a viable option, or understand the segmentation within that number? Sure, plenty of universities run entrepreneurial-focused courses, but I think we need to examine the overall concept of self employment and flexible working as options for those leaving education.

We at Optionis believe that the prospect of gaining experience is a powerful factor in our successful apprenticeship programme. Gaining experience through the more robust forms of self employment can be an excellent way of building that CV. Sure, working part time in a pub is better than doing nothing, but I believe that the education system needs more focus on work and experience before it churns out qualified people without a wider appreciation of the way of work in these times.

The "system" needs to balance between the good work it teaches on entrepreneurial principles, and the opportunity to gain valuable outcomes based experience through working as a freelancer, contractor or similar modes of operation. I guess I would say this but the modern, compliant umbrella company is a safe, structured home and also provides the opportunity to work on brands and projects that otherwise might be difficult to reach. I am not advocating forced self employment, and there are some risks, but much of that thinking comes from a previous time and is not reflective of current good practice.

Flexible working (the ability to work on a variety of projects / tasks for a variety of clients at various locations, and not the looking-at-Google-from-your-bed form of flexible working) is here to stay and we will continue to try and educate the educators on these principles.

It's up to us all in the contingent / professional workforce space to spread the gospel.

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