Lydia Wakefield appreciates the uncertainty of youth when it comes to professional routes. Having been through the education system herself, and then started her career there in higher education institutes across the UK, she understands the demands on graduates, or people younger and older than that, on selecting their careers.
Today on the podcast, Lydia and I discuss her work with IPSE, the community support it offers to freelancers, as well as what contract-workers old and young can do to maintain their professional standards and expectations.
“I have a mixed background, but it’s all within education and training,” Lydia says. Previously she had lived and worked in Nottingham, before moving back down to her native Somerset, where she worked for the University of Bath. Coaching MBA and Undergraduate students about their future prospects gave her a good indication about training and routes - and it surprised her that so few people knew about the many different progression paths available to people coming out of school.
One thing not a lot of graduates think about is starting off as self-employed. A degree is often seen as a means to an end, rather than by providing applicable skills that can transfer; as she says of the education system, “there’s too much focus on what you study, rather than on how you study”.
That’s not to say that education isn’t important. “A lot of industries prefer you to have qualifications, or certain certified skills,” she says. Again, knowing what you need to know, or what you need to learn (or what equipment, what tools you need) is one of the key weapons in the arsenal of the freelancer.
Soon enough, she found herself expanding on this role as the Education and Training Manager for IPSE. IPSE, on the basic level, provides training and support for freelance and contractors, whether that’s through providing documentation itself (like a template invoice), or just the advice on how to draw up a contract with an employer.
“No one has a career for life these days,” she tells me. The generation that would pick one thing and do it until they retire has given way to the more transient, migratory workforce. It’s totally possible for anyone with a bankable skill to become a self-employed contractor, she explains, but it requires a little more nous than usual to survive.
One problem that freelancers commonly encounter is that they are being taken advantage of, and lack the employment rights to strength their tenuous positions. One way to combat this, she explains, it educating yourself with the right knowledge. Arts, Literacy, and Media sector workers lean heavily on freelance work - but while any courses they might take will teach them the finer aspects of their crafts, very few will teach them the business elements that they need to know to thrive; things like tax, or how to set up a business in the first place.
Another issue is the problem of value. Self-worth is hard to measure, harder still when you offer a service that is far less tangible than say, a product. She notes, “freelancers are talented individuals, that’s why they do what they do, that’s why they deserve to be valued.” The onus lies on the companies to not take advantage, or to overstep the boundaries of a pre-agreed contract, but also on the freelancer to better understand themselves and what they offer - and what they can reasonably expect.
We also discuss her resounding belief in the “No Free Work” attitude, as well as some recent corporate case studies that should cause any self-respecting freelancer some embarrassment. They dispel a few myths about freelancing, and emphasise that everybody needs to learn how to value themselves. In this day and age, “any industry can go self-employed”, she says. And with IPSE, it seems like they’d have all the clout they need to back themselves up.
Lydia on Twitter: https://twitter.com/_lydiaregina
“Sainsbury's apologises for ad seeking artist to revamp canteen for free” via The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/may/13/sainsburys-apologises-ad-seeking-artist-revamp-canteen-for-free
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