The Information Age

Training can give you a huge professional boost. But it is often overlooked in the world of the self-employed. Here, Mark Williams outlines the very real benefits of taking on training, and how things can change for the better

Ask any freelancer about the challenges they’re facing right now. A struggle to be compliant with a burdensome tax system might be one answer, or having to chase a client for yet another late payment may be another. What many freelancers might also say, however, is the difficulty of accessing good development opportunities. The self-employed are a fundamental part of the labour market; businesses large and small rely heavily on the specialist skills and knowledge these workers can provide on a flexible basis. Their skills are vital for economic growth. On top of that, independent professionals have a very strong reputation to maintain. The world is ever-changing and the self-employed need to be constantly on the pulse, updating their skills at each stage in their career if they are to maintain a competitive advantage. 

Bill Walker, Technical Director at QA, a leading training provider, commented: “Staying ahead of the game is more important for freelancers than for anybody else. Often, a freelancer is only as good as their last contract – particularly in industries such as IT, where the technology is evolving constantly. Employees are gradually developed over time, learning from their peers. But clients pay a premium for the specialist knowledge a freelancer provides so, unlike employees, they have to hit the ground running.”  

On top of core skills, it’s necessary to hone expertise in a number of practical and management disciplines. As a self-employed professional, you are your own marketer, client management team, website handler and many other things too. Working-level knowledge of finance and tax, business rates, health and safety, insurance, immigration status, benefits and tax credits, trading names and licences can all be required – and aren’t necessarily things you can simply ‘learn on the job’.

The barriers between independent professionals and development opportunities

Acquiring this knowledge can create outgoing costs that, as someone who is self-employed, you have to cover yourself. In addition to the cost of training, a perceived lack of flexibility in courses can act as a disincentive to signing up. If a course only runs twice per year on the same day or week of the month, there is understandable hesitation in taking that time off. Greater flexibility in training opportunities would allow it to fit into a schedule – rather than simultaneously shelling out for a course and losing a day’s or a week’s income. When you’re working for yourself and organising your own work timetable, every day, every hour is time that could be spent earning.

Unfortunately, there is also less access out there to support structures for the self-employed than there is for conventional employees. Mentoring schemes, careers advice and business support are often targeted at larger businesses or are less readily available to the self-employed.

IPSE is working hard to develop policy and effect change in the area of training for the self-employed. For those out there doing things unsupported, training can make all the difference in establishing a thriving, competitive business. Below are the key areas where we see potential for change in order to increase this accessibility to training.

Young people and self-employment

Transferable, life and personal skills are rarely covered in the traditional curriculum. The quality of careers advice also varies greatly between schools, meaning that for young people starting their own businesses it can be even trickier. Despite the formation of careers advice centres, enterprise centres and various other resource providers for young people, they are rarely interlinked, and so their individual offerings to students can become confusing. Research conducted by IPSE and ComRes in 2014 found that out of 1,143 freelancers surveyed, just 1% received information about self-employment in school or college and only 2% did so at university.

Employee training versus self-employed training

Employers, particularly larger firms, seek to demonstrate a commitment to staff development and will allocate large training budgets to develop common working procedures and strengthen internal relationships. Conventional employees will also have an experienced HR team which will take the time to source the opportunities, make the arrangements and ensure that the entire workforce is up to speed. For the self-employed, it’s down to you to make it happen. IPSE considers it vital to reduce the gap between what is available to the employed and the self-employed.

An unfair tax system

The system as it stands does not fully account for those who work for themselves. While employers and employees enjoy tax-deductible rates on all learning and development opportunities, tax deductions only apply to the self-employed if the training is deemed to develop a ‘core’ skill in their profession – meaning that a plumber, for example, would receive the same tax treatment as employees on health and safety courses, but courses on how to market a business would cost considerably more for the plumber than for a conventional employee.

Proposals for the Government

As Bill Walker mentions, “There are things the Government could do to incentivise the self-employed to take up more training. It needs to be made more affordable, especially for those who are unable to find conventional employment and are considering going it alone for the first time. For example, a government-funded interest-free loan, similar to a student loan, could unlock training opportunities for people who couldn’t otherwise afford them.”

Mentoring schemes could be geared more towards the self-employed, with government oversight. They could be better promoted in further and higher education institutes, and on Jobcentre Plus and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) websites. They could be expanded to be made available to people considering starting out for themselves for the first time.

The tax treatment of training for the self-employed needs an overhaul. Training for new skills should be encouraged throughout the labour market – and should be tax deductible for independent professionals just as it is for employees. The current system does not incentivise professional development – quite the opposite – and does not encourage the smallest business owners to branch out into new areas of work. This also means that potential new freelancers, particularly recent graduates, may be put off from starting out on their own.

Solution: IPSE Academy

Ensuring the self-employed have access to top-quality, flexible and affordable development opportunities is high on IPSE’s agenda for 2016. For that reason, we’ve established a range of training benefits for IPSE members available through ‘IPSE Academy’. This will provide members with a discount of up to 50% on training courses with some of the UK’s leading training providers.

QA Ltd. – Technical IT, Project Management, IT Service Management, Business Systems, Business Applications, and Business and Management skills

  • Up to 50% discount 


BPP Professional Qualifications – Accounting, Financial Services, Tax, Insolvency, Administration, Actuarial, Law, HR, Marketing and Research

  • 10% discount


BPP short courses, Professional Development – Accounting, Finance, Law, Healthcare and Business

  • Up to 50% discount with Corporate discount available to members


Media Training Ltd – Design, Web, Video, Marketing, Writing and Business

  • Members – 20% discount
  • Non-members (freelancers) – 15% discount


Many training courses available to members lead to recognised qualifications or have CPD points attached, allowing you to keep on top of your professional accreditations. A number of these courses are available in a range of learning formats, from classroom-based to self-paced learning, allowing you to study at a pace that suits you and your work schedule.

IPSE is also proudly partnered with Ashridge Business School to allow Plus members to benefit from Virtual Ashridge, 24/7 online access to a wealth of leading-edge, web-based management learning materials and business resources to strengthen your business knowledge and increase your potential.

IPSE will be introducing additional training benefits to IPSE Academy in the near future to ensure that independent professionals have access to the development opportunities that will enable them to continue to broaden their skillsets and stay ahead of the curve.  

The future of training for the self-employed 

The value of training to the self-employed cannot be underestimated. But accessibility is lacking.

More people are now self-employed in the UK than ever before – a total of 4.6 million. Self-employment, clearly, is here to stay and policy makers need to respond to this shift in the labour market. A clearer focus on training for the self-employed will ensure the next generation of independent professionals are well equipped to play their part in ensuring the UK’s future economic success.

IPSE’s proposals would allow for this to happen. They are practical, easy to implement and are just a small part of what the Government can do to allow self-employment to flourish.