In a sector under pressure, will freelancers suffer or thrive?

11 June 2021

The creative industries thrive on innovation, versatility, and practicality.  Many creative professionals operate successful portfolio and freelance careers, and for young people who aspire to a career in the sector, understanding the value of this way of working might just help some make the leap, especially if they know they can be their own boss.  But we must help the next generation learn that there is a right way to do this.

The pandemic has, as in so many other areas of our society, served to expose some shortcomings in our sector that may serve to work against us in the long term. A freelance career can be hugely rewarding, often chosen for the freedoms and flexibilities that this way of working brings. If used well by businesses, it can generate huge benefits through the cross-pollination of ideas from people working across a range of projects or organisations. This approach also allows businesses to deploy resources at crucial times and in doing so, reduce liabilities. In the current climate this is essential.

Sadly, the last year has shown us that freelancing can be a risky business, with many individuals left without protection and support at a time of crisis. This has jeopardised the continuation of freelance talent in our sector. But we have to ask if things could have been a little different for some who were left out in the cold: was it freelancers we let down, or were they really fixed term employees who were left without access to the rights and benefits they were entitled to?

Under the right conditions freelance work is a brilliant win/win situation for all concerned, allowing businesses to bring in key skills when services need to be delivered for a time limited period. Under the wrong conditions, it risks employers perpetuating poor working practises and individuals losing access to essential benefits, something that some may have felt acutely throughout the pandemic.

Self-employed contractors, by definition, have fewer rights and responsibilities and as such we urge businesses to recognise the difference between contracts-for-services and fixed-term-employment. Getting this right can protect businesses as well as individuals, and in turn may open up entry into our workforce to those who may not have considered it a viable option previously.

What matters most is that employers use the right ‘tool’ for the job (metaphorically as well as literally). If you require the delivery of services, then a freelancer might be what you need, but if what you are offering really describes conditions of employment, then bite the bullet and do it right. If you are not sure, then get in touch, we might be able to help you look at the work opportunities you have a little differently, and in doing so may be able to help you attract a broader pool of talent.

The experiences of freelancers, and the future of freelancing in our sector is something we discuss in the latest episode of our new podcast series. Let us change our understanding, then our mindset, as doing so might just make us a fairer and more resilient sector.

Jane Ide OBE, CEO, Creative & Cultural Skills

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