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1st July 2015

A freelance career provides many benefits, such as having complete control over how you work and being able to gain experience with many employers in a range of sectors. Having a diverse range of real-world experience behind you will make you much more appealing to employers, boosting your long-term career prospects and earning potential.

These advantages could be particularly appealing to the latest crop of university leavers, who are reportedly the most careers-orientated, organised and ambitious of their generation.

Graduates get serious about jobs

According to the UK Graduate Careers Survey 2015 from High Fliers Research, students graduating this summer are wasting no time when it comes to putting their career plans into action.

The study was based on a survey of more than 18,000 final-year students, many of whom were the first to pay increased tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year.

It showed the ambition and go-getting nature that characterises the latest crop of graduates, with the proportion (26%) of university leavers expecting to start a job directly after their degree at its highest level since 2001.

A record number of students had already received job offers before leaving university, according to the findings.

Furthermore, only 9% of survey respondents from the ‘class of 2015′ had no clear career plans, while nearly half (48%) had already started researching their options by the end of their first year of study.

Consulting was found to be the most appealing area of work for graduates, with interest in the sector rising by two-thirds in the past five years. Marketing, the media and charity/voluntary work were next on the list.

Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, said: “By researching their employment options earlier than ever and completing an average of six months’ work experience during their studies, [this year’s graduates] have prepared more thoroughly for the graduate job market than any other cohort in the last 20 years.”

The self-employment option

The growth of self-employment as a feature of Britain’s labour market means it is likely to become an increasingly viable and attractive option for graduates.

One of the key themes of further education is making the transition from the more structured, controlled environment of secondary school to a more independent, self-led study.

Undergraduates who have enjoyed this freedom and found that the increased autonomy has helped them to flourish could well succeed in the world of self-employment.

According to IPSE, the membership association for freelancers, contractors and independent professionals, it is becoming increasingly important for young people to receive more information and guidance about working for themselves as part of their education.

Ben Wright, the press officer at the group, said record numbers of young people are starting businesses or going it alone as freelancers, meaning it is “crucial” that support, mentoring and advice is given to students to increase their chances of success.

In its response to the latest official employment data from the Office for National Statistics, IPSE said the number of self-employed people in the UK remained strong.

Chief executive Chris Bryce commented: “A healthy number of independent professionals is an important indicator of a flexible and strong economy.

“Our research shows that the self-employed are feeling confident, suggesting they will continue to drive the UK economy forward in the coming months and years.”

According to the study from High Fliers Research, 4% of final-year students had aspirations to run their own business after university. While this is a relatively small proportion, it is twice the level of two years ago.

The independent RSA think-tank this month released a report underlining the growing importance of firms with up to nine employees. The study concluded that these microbusinesses are more productive and efficient than they are often given credit for, and have the potential to make an extremely significant contribution to economic growth.

How graduates can prepare for the world of work

As well as providing an attractive career option after graduation, self-employment and freelancing can help students boost their job prospects while they are still at university.

According to a recent survey by CareerBuilder UK, many employers are looking for job candidates who have a diverse range of attributes and experience, which can be gained through part-time, independent work during university studies.

More than half (53%) of the employers questioned said educational institutions are failing to prepare undergraduates for the world of work by putting too much emphasis on book learning over real-world experience.

More than four out of ten organisations (42%) were looking for individuals with a blend of technical expertise and soft skills.

Sam Forrest, a second-year student on Huddersfield University’s Enterprise Development course, is an example of what industrious undergraduates can achieve. He created an online platform called Uni Media Mash, which allows the trading and selling of university books.

Mr Forrest was invited by IPSE to hold a talk with students about the opportunities entrepreneurship and enterprise can offer. One of his key pieces of advice was to start as soon as possible.

“Whatever your skills, whatever your capital and whatever the business idea, Sam encouraged the students to get things off the ground sooner rather than later,” said IPSE’s press officer Ben Wright.

With independent professionals and microbusinesses becoming an increasingly important and valuable part of the economic landscape, the university could be the perfect place to begin the journey to an exciting and empowering career in self-employment.

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