The Changing Face of Employment

Published on June 16, 2017 | By Sarah-Jane Ellis


As the years go by, seemingly faster than ever, I am conscious of the changing shape of the workplace. Very different to the world of work I entered following a rather too enjoyable time as a student. Back then the rush was on to secure a good graduate placement at a blue-chip organisation. And so began my corporate career. I’ve no complaints and this excellent grounding has served me well. Over time, however, the employment landscape has changed dramatically; notably the growth in the self-employed workforce.

Changing Face of Employment

Over the past 20 years the number of self-employed people has doubled to nearly 5 million. One in seven of those employed are classed as self-employed: higher in the South, with the highest proportion in London, and the lowest in Scotland. Staggering statistics, so for purposes of this blog I shall confine the discussion to freelancers, who represent 2 million of the self-employed workforce, operating through their own limited companies.

Interestingly, almost half are aged between 40-59, with 20% aged over 60. The Ipse article make some pertinent observations on this subject  –

(https://www.ipse.co.uk/sites/default/files/documents/research/exploring_the_uk_freelance_workforce_in_2016_v2.pdf).

I am sure many of you have thoughts as to why this is the case. What is driving over 1 million, dare I say mature, workers to branch out on their own? Some have suggested it is lack of permanent opportunities for the over 40s and there may be some truth in this, dependent on factors such as sector. Others, myself included, subscribe to the lifestyle choice perspective.

Whatever the motivations, this trend continues to grow and the US is now showing a similar pattern. The Telegraph (23 May 2017) commented that “People who work for themselves are going to become an ever-more powerful economic and political force.”

(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/12106318/The-self-employed-will-overtake-the-public-sector-with-the-gig-economy.html).

This ‘phenomena’ is clearly a concern for Government in maintaining tax revenues. It has prompted Theresa May to appoint Matthew Taylor (RSA Chief Executive) to undertake a review. Whilst the review aims to address six key themes, it seemingly ignores the reasons why people make the decision to go contracting.

For many the freedom to control their working life is paramount. I don’t want to ignore or downplay the financial arguments, as they are relevant, but they are not the whole picture. Ask any contractor why they choose this type of employment over permanent and you will get a vast array of reasons. If you are a contractor what is your Top 5 List? My guess is that lifestyle and control features somewhere.

Creative Boom lists 20 reasons, and although written 6 years ago, it is probably as relevant today:

http://www.creativeboom.com/tips/20-great-reasons-to-go-freelance/

It will be interesting to see if Matthew Taylor’s review identifies some of these fundamental arguments for the rise in the appeal of contracting; recognising new business models and ways of working. Or will he simply try to hold back the tide and attempt to drag an unwilling group back into the ‘one-size fits all’ confines of PAYE. Perhaps the debate, and the review, would benefit from a wider appraisal of the motivations behind the contracting choice.

Sarah-Jane Ellis

Sarah was appointed as a Non-Executive Director at Ronin in 2016. An experienced procurement/commercial professional who has held positions at BAA (Heathrow), BBC, Visa International and Mars UK Ltd. She now operates through her own company, providing interim and consultancy services to public and private sector clients.