Employment growth fuelled by self-employment

Amid the news that unemployment is at a five-year low and employment at a record high was the mention that the number of self-employed people rose by 375,000 since March 2013, totalling 4.6 million. This means self-employment is the fastest-growing employment area, with 351,000 new employees in the private and public sectors in the past 14 months. According to David Tinsley, UK economist for BNP Paribas, the report by the Office for National Statistics was "disproportionately a self-employment story".

In the three months of January to March 2014, 283,000 people began work - the largest increase since records began in 1971. Of those, almost 65% were self-employed.

Employment minister Esther McVey is pleased by the news, stating that "each and every person who has made a new start or hired someone new is helping to make Britain a more prosperous and confident place to be", and that they are becoming "the employers of tomorrow". However, unions are concerned that a rise in self-employment means a less rewarded workforce with lower job security than employees.

That there are positive and negative sides to a story is not surprising, but it must be a good thing that there are business-minded people forging a career for themselves, who otherwise wouldn't have. One such example is Amie Samba, recipient of the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award at the Precious Awards 2012. The 27-year-old told the Guardian that "with the financial crash and the way the economy was, I wondered what my options were"but she began running sports sessions and it wasn't long before she was being sought out for custom courses. Run Fun Starz was born, and Samba explained: "If someone had offered me my dream job, I probably would have turned it down because I was young. I wanted to see if I could make this work and I wouldn't have much to lose". Samba, who will soon be recruiting employees, is the poster child of McVey's sentiment.

Such is the upswing in self-employment that education charity Young Enterprise is seeing increased demand for its university start-up programme that facilitates students in setting up and running a business during a year of their studies. The increase in self-employment has coincided with rising numbers of unemployed youths, but it may not be a simple case of running out of options. According to a report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, co-produced with Young Enterprise, many new businesses are being created to fill market gaps. One example of this is Media Devil, the award-winning mobile accessories company that began in 2009, operating from then-22-year-old Callum Bush's bedroom. The company was the result of Callum's personal experience buying a screen protector for his phone - the service he received was so poor he decided to launch Media Devil to provide the very best customer experience.

It could be argued that with today's technology and the skills demonstrated by young people that becoming self-employed is easier than it has ever been before. After all, free calls can be had with potential partners, distributors, manufacturers and customers around the world thanks to products like Skype, and Amazon's Marketplace provides the opportunity to immediately get products in front of millions of prospective customers.

That's not to suggest it's easy - creating a business remains as time-consuming and challenging as ever - but the aforementioned Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development report calls out for enterprise education to become part of the national curriculum. What's certain is that self-employment is fuelling the current jobs boom; it can't be foreseen whether this will be a permanent trend, but if it is, further education on managing and building a business should have a marked impact on how many can succeed.

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