New initiative helps young freelancers commodify their skills

Three London universities are teaming up with online platform, Underpinned, to help would-be freelancers succeed in what is proportionately an older person’s game

It was announced today (7 April) that three London universities are teaming up with an online platform for freelancers, UnderPinned, in a bid to help students commodify their skills.

Students at the institutions – London Metropolitan University, London College of Communication, and St Mary’s University, Twickenham – will be able to enter a virtual office equipped with tools to put together a freelance portfolio, source and manage clients and projects, and write invoices and contracts.

The collaboration will also give students the opportunity to hone slightly more nuanced skills via a freelance business accelerator programme, including modules on learning how to price work and pitching to clients.

“We produce some of the most skilled individuals in the world, but we fail to equip them with the knowledge or tools they need to build a business around their skills,” said Albert Azis-Clauson, CEO of UnderPinned.

“Our educational focus on getting people into full-time employment is fundamentally damaging the opportunities of young people. Businesses are increasingly turning to freelancers and hybridised workers, but the self-employed are disproportionately older.”

We plan to scale up and partner with universities right across the country – Albert Azis-Clauson, UnderPinned

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics say that 16-29-years-olds form fewer than 20% of self-employed workers, while those aged 40-59 account for more than half.

There is also a marked gender gap across the sector, with the UK’s self-employed workforce currently split 65% male and 35% female.

“Whether they go directly into freelancing or into a new form of hybridised employment, young people need to get access to the knowledge and tools to commercialise their skills in the modern world of work if they want to succeed,” added Azis-Clauson.

The 4.1 million self-employed people in the UK constitute 14.8% of the UK’s workforce, a proportion greater than the US, Germany, and France, and behind only Italy in global ranking.

While the proportion of self-employed workers has risen sharply, there remain a number of latent problems in the sector. Perhaps most critically, research undertaken by UnderPinned and the Small Business Commissioner found that 41% of invoices are consistently paid late to freelancers, with up to 55% having not been paid at all for work carried out.

Freelancers being able to convey their worth – and recognise it themselves – is one of the key aspects of the new platform, according to the partners behind it.

“Not only do students gain a deeper understanding of their value as freelancers, they are also able to gain tangible experience and present this to future employers as a testament to their unique ability to seek out the work that matches their skills,” said Mandip Takhar, placements manager at University of the Arts London, London College of Communication.

From the archive: Why is self-employment a great option?

“UnderPinned’s offer has enhanced our approach in dealing with how we guide students and graduates into their desired line of work and help them to gain a deeper understanding into their value as creative freelancers in their chosen field of expertise,” she added.

That enhanced approach may soon be coming to institutions beyond the capital.

“It’s fantastic that London universities are recognising this fundamental shift away from traditional linear employment paths,” said Azis-Clauson. “The capital is one of the best places in the world to be an entrepreneur, but this is just the beginning.

“We plan to scale up and partner with universities right across the country to help give students from all backgrounds and of all ages the confidence to become freelancers, and to give companies access to the flexibility and skills of freelancers that could transform their business.”

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