Since 2008 there has been a 66% increase in the
number of 16- to 29-year-old UK students opting to go freelance. However,
according to a research by ComRes, only 1% of freelancers learnt about
self-employment in school or college and 2% learn about them in university (Wakefield,
The other challenge is that universities focus on entrepreneurship only in
their business department, though the largest group of freelancers work within
arts and the media. Self-employed education is not accessible to students from disciplines
other than business.
For most creative freelancers, freelancing
gives them the flexibility to pursue their creative goals often more
effectively than working for someone else. Though it is creative freelancing,
these students will have to don many hats like sales, accounting, project
management, invoice management in their freelancing career. Interpersonal
skills play a huge role in acquiring and retaining clients. It is akin to
running a business. The design schools do not place enough emphasis on
preparing students for self-employment.
During my research, I asked the interview respondents
whether the design schools they attended prepared them for a career in
freelancing. Vivian Yung opined that, “During my study, I improved my skills in
graphic design and professional presentation, which helped ensuring the work
quality when dealing with future freelance jobs.” However, Alysia who said university
didn’t really prepare for freelancing, gave a contrary opinion. She said, “We
have done a one-day workshop about our options and what other alumni have done
in the past. I don’t mind that- the course was overall very good anyway.” Heather
who said, “Deadlines were always too long and there was no real pressure or
client’s demands”, expressed a similar view. What is evident from these
responses is that though the university ensures that students learn about core
designing concepts and presentation skills, it fails to impart the skills
necessary to navigate the complex and competitive world of freelancing.
Often, design schools teach students how to
talk to other designers, but unfortunately, the clients that freelancers have
to work with may be from entirely non-design backgrounds. The schools need to
prepare students to talk to non-design clients. The students should also be
taught about getting the most descriptive design briefs from the clients.
Communicating with the client clearly about the project outcome and
expectations is a necessity. Equally important is teaching the students
negotiation tactics and significance of legal contracts. Dealing with deadlines
and working under pressure is lacking in most of the course work and that
should be mandatory as well.
It is imperative that universities should teach
its students how to identify their existing talents and improve their skills to
begin their own viable business. There are abundant opportunities for
freelancers to work on a project-to-project basis and the careers officers
should highlight this.
In the same ComRes survey, 20% freelancers said
it was a standard practice to provide free or unpaid work in order to build
relevant experience and portfolio. This practice should be discouraged as
certain companies take undue advantage of the students efforts. Universities
should enable students in broadening their understanding of freelancing. In
that way, young students will be better prepared to start their freelancing careers.
A right step in this direction has been taken
by proposing Entrepreneurship Competence framework or ‘Entrecomp’ as a standard
for enterprise education in universities across the UK and EU. The term ‘Entrecomp’
suggests entrepreneurship as a competence. This will help students and others
to develop entrepreneurial skills as a competence in all industries. The
program focused on students has many aspects that will help in the development
of budding entrepreneurs. Freelancing is about acting on available
opportunities using intrinsic and extrinsic resources at a freelancer’s
disposal and Entrecomp represents that idea.
If this framework is successfully incorporated
in the university curriculum, students will receive a foundational training
that they need for a successful freelancing career. The framework is exhaustive
and provides resources starting from spotting opportunities, converting them
into business and taking action. Identifying opportunities and taking advantage
of them is crucial for a freelancer. Similarly, they should be trained in making
the best use of the resources available to them. Educating students about certain
skills such as economic literacy, financial literacy, project management are
part of the framework. These skills are essential for a freelancing career as the
creative freelancers need to manage the entire business cycle on their own. The
right monetisation avenues should also be included in the curriculum.
To be a successful freelancer, a person needs
to cope with uncertainty, ambiguity and risk, working with others and learning
through experience. These skills will enable freelancers to effectively complete
projects and build a successful portfolio.