The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) has called for new initiatives spanning schools, colleges and universities to equip young people throughout their educational years with the skills required for independent contracting, freelancing and self-employment more broadly.

IPSE’s Stephen Rooney cites research from the CBI and training provider Pearson, which found that over two-thirds (69 per cent) of the companies surveyed believe they will struggle to fill highly skilled roles in the foreseeable future. However, he continues, increasing numbers of businesses are realising that a solution is at hand in the form of contracting Umbrella Company Employees and other skilled freelancers:

“These flexible workers provide specialist expertise on demand, and more companies are relying on this expertise than ever before. It’s down to this group to plug widening skills gaps and be on hand when there are peaks and troughs in demand.”

Contractors and freelancers, Rooney notes, now constitute a 1.9 million-strong army of independent professionals (and counting) and are appreciated by 83 per cent of SMEs and over three-quarters of large companies for adding value to their businesses.

Freelancers, he observes, are relied upon by these employers to be “at the very top of their game,” arriving equipped with the skills and expertise to hit the ground running. Yet they find it harder than any other group to access training: while all training for employees is tax-deductible, for contractors, this condition only applies to skills considered specific to their profession, not new ones.

Additionally, independent contractors have to finance relevant training themselves and take unpaid time off work to undertake it. As Rooney notes, if this hasn’t been carefully planned for, it can “leave a big hole in their finances at the end of the month.”

He continues: “Action is needed not just in Parliament, but in schools, colleges and universities too. There’s no consistent approach to enterprise skills and advice in the education system and young people are entering the world of business under-skilled and under-informed. Here’s an example: in 2014, just 1% of the self-employed told us they learnt about self-employment in school or college. 2% said the same for university. Learning institutions need to address this bias and give a more balanced view of the world of work.”

Rooney also urges the Government to introduce business support schemes and mentoring for new entrepreneurs and contractors. Existing support, he points out, is predominantly targeted at larger businesses, while independent professionals are currently overlooked.

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