Rise of the new Unemployables

Recent UK employment statistics have confused economists and statisticians. What’s going on?

UK employment increased in the three months to July 2012, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.1% (according to official figures), all of this despite one of the worst recessions in living memory.

Using language that we rarely hear from politicians, John Major, a former Prime Minister said at the weekend:

“I’m not certain, but I think we have passed the darkest moment. There are some oddities in the figures at the moment. Why in the depths of this recession is employment growing, why is industrial production going up, why has the stock market risen? I could list a number of other things.

There are things happening out there that will become apparent and we don’t quite know why or how. My guess – and this is something a minister can’t say but I can – my guess is in due course we will find that we pass the bottom … and that we are starting on what will be a slow road to recovery.”

If you are one of the record number of people who are working independently, then you will not be surprised, but it seems that our official number crunchers, economists and the media who report the figures are stuck in the old mind-set where permanent employment by one employer represents the norm.

The official numbers

‘The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also show a record high in the number of people working part time. From May to July 2012 the number of part-time workers increased by 134,000 on the previous quarter to reach 8.12 million. Of these, a record 1.42 million employees and self-employed people were working part-time because they could not find a full-time job, an increase of 24,000 on the prior quarter’. (FinancialNews.co.uk)

Is it really true to say that all 1.42 million employees and self-employed people are working part time because they can’t find a full time job?  Or is that a combination of out-of-date metrics and lazy reporting?  We certainly accept that there are people who would prefer the perceived security of a full time job, but isn’t it patronising to those of us who choose to take control of our own careers to assume that we’ve settled for less because we can’t get a proper job?

Here at KindredHQ, we firmly believe that something rather extraordinary is happening in the way we work and think about ‘employment’. It’s a significant movement towards a more fluid work and lifestyle that you’ll observe in cafes and open spaces in every city around the world.   We don’t necessarily classify ourselves as ‘employed’ or ‘unemployed’.

Sometimes, we say we are The Unemployable. It’s a badge of honour.

A way of saying that we’re confident enough in our abilities and skills not to hold on to jobs that no longer fulfil our souls, not to have to dance to the corporate tune.  That we have our own rules and structures and we are in control of our own working lives.

We haven’t yet developed our secret handshake but it’s easy to spot ‘one of us’.  However, it’s a growing tribe that is moreorless invisible to the establishment.  On the one hand, who cares?  On the other, it means in reality that planning, support and services haven’t evolved to embrace the independent worker.  And that reinforces the ‘them and us’ stand off between the freestyle worker and the permanent workforce.

All of that results in wasted energy and talent.  If you don’t know who we are, how can you persuade us to buy your products?  Or vote for you?  Or hire us?

The tides are turning.  It used to be that large businesses and organisations – the established order – used to call all the shots.  They could keep you waiting months before paying your invoice and it was almost impossible to persuade recruiters that you freelanced because you wanted to, not because you couldn’t hold down a job.  Freelancers have often been the butt of the corporate man’s joke.

Already, those of us who can do work for ourselves and despite the lean times, we demonstrate a resilience that you don’t often see in corporate life.  It’s because we are nearer to the coalface and we hear and see the opportunities as they arise. We don’t have to worry about large overheads, we can move fast and with agility.

Contribution to the economy

Despite working independently, we contribute to the economy in many ways.  Often we are forming flock teams of other freelancers with complementary skills, which is a different type of job creation.  We buy all manner of goods and services, but we are often more intelligent about the way we access them – for example by choosing to travel at different times of the day.

We contribute to the social and cultural wellbeing of the nation in very significant ways.  You’ll often observe that independents have lots of strings to their bows, and will volunteer alongside their paid work.  We are a group of nurturers; we look after each other, like any good tribe.  We are social beings and being around others is part of our make up.   We’re coming up with new ways to work (like the Kindred jelly co-working events) and by virtue of the fact that we move around often helping companies plug their innovation gap; we keep our brains alive to new ideas.

Enough is enough!  It’s time for a new way to measure the statistics of employment and business health.  Perhaps then we can allow ourselves to believe that it is possible to have fun doing what you love, that we are making an impact on the economy and playing our important part.


Who is Alex Butler

Hello, I'm Alex Butler and I founded the KindredHQ community and blog back in 2011 after I re-started a freelance career. I LOVE freelancing and I wouldn't swop the freedom, control and joy of working for myself for anything. But I realised how much I missed the company and energy of other people - of having a team around me. So, I got a few people together one day with our laptops, a jar of coffee and some jelly babies and we sat and worked together one afternoon. We've been doing that every week in London, UK since then! I am still 100% freelance and I like to share the everyday highs and lows of being a freelancer here on the blog.


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