This report was published by the PCG (Professional Contractors Group) last week to coincide with National Freelancers Day and the PCG’s Freelance Lecture.
The report is in two parts and gives a high level summary of two pieces of research.
Freelancing Increases as Traditional Employment Declines
Dr John Kitching of the Small Business Research Centre at Kingston University updated his 2008 research to find that there are now an estimated 1.56m freelancers in the UK.
The number of people freelancing as their main job has increased by 11.9 per cent since the original 2008 study. In the same period, traditional employees have declined by 1.5 per cent and unemployment has grown by 49 per cent.
Kingston have defined freelancers in way which accords with the idea of Sovereign Professionals, to “include ‘managers, directors and officials’, ‘professional workers’ and ‘associate professional and technical workers’” as defined in the ONS’s Standard Occupational Classification.
Freelancing Enables Economic Agility and Innovation
Professor Andrew Burke of Cranfield School of Management shares some early findings as a precursor to his study of “The value that freelancers bring to the 21st Century economy”. Burke, who was one of the speakers at the Freelance Lecture, identifies four important roles that freelancers play in adding value to the modern UK economy:
- Businesses are increasingly contracting out parts of their innovation and entrepreneurship activities to freelancers, a move which aligns with the trend towards an “open innovation” approach.
- Freelancers cycling through a number of short-term projects has he effect of unlocking an economy’s creative potential.
- Using “expertise on demand” freelancers means businesses always have access to the “A Team” rather than making do with jacks of all trades.
- The pay as you go model of freelancers allows businesses to ring-fence and stage the financing of innovation projects with the effect of enabling further innovation and competitiveness. Burke also finds that the availability of freelancers “encourages some multinationals to base more of their enterprise activities in the UK”.
Professor Burke’s current work builds on his earlier study of freelancing in the construction industry the findings of which are also applicable to freelancing across all industries.
One of Burke’s broader themes is that freelancing should be recognised, nurtured and celebrated. In the past, he finds, research has tended to categorise freelancing into one of two rather negative buckets: either as a reluctant, oppressed and disempowered workforce or as failed entrepreneurs. Recognising the true nature of freelancing will better enable the economy as a whole to benefit.