Flexibility, autonomy, improved work/life balance and increased earnings – just some of the reasons why so many people are now working for themselves, and driving a revolution in the world of work.
All are factors in creating a workforce who are overwhelmingly happier than their employed counterparts; so why, therefore, do so few educational institutions help advise, support and champion the next generation of budding entrepreneurs?
Ben Fisher and Anthony Mellor are part of this generation who have shunned the traditional form of employment to pursue a passion and run their own business.
Both, however, are doing so in the face of adversity having received little support at college or university, relying instead on their entrepreneurial acumen.
“This is something that I feel quite passionately about; I don’t feel it is encouraged as much as it should be,” Fisher told IPSE. When I was at school and university, it was made very clear that if you are doing well enough, then you should go to university – there wasn’t really any questioning of that.”
After studying Applied Physics at the University of Portsmouth, Fisher worked full-time in executive recruitment in the tech sector, but always had aspirations to work for himself.
Now the 23-year-old has developed, and is on the verge of releasing, the app ‘beu’ – a platform for consumers and hairdressers to make and manage appointments.
With a family connection in the industry, Fisher spent time during his teenage years completing work experience with hairdressers. Throughout university he would regularly note down business ideas and had often toyed with the idea of making something.
After four months working part-time in magazines and exhibitions within the hair and beauty industry, Fisher enlisted the help of some friends and began laying the foundations for ‘beu’.
“I always had an inkling that I wanted to be self-employed,” says Fisher – who funded the venture with the help of an investor, along with savings from his previous work in recruitment.
“But I felt there was too much pressure to go to university, get your degree and then get a job at a big company. And then, at university, it was a similar situation as well.
“They seemed very concerned about the number of students that went straight into employment immediately after graduating. To me, there is too much pressure to conform to what looks good on Ofsted reports or university rankings.
“My cousin had gone to college after taking his GCSEs, and the first thing all the colleges and schools were saying was that 98 per cent of their students were going into further education. But they weren’t worried about what the students actually wanted to do and whether they wanted to do that.”
Someone else who has broken the mould and now runs his own business is Mellor.
Alongside a full-time job as a security officer at Heathrow Airport, the 19-year-old founded Absolute Fitness Apparel in 2016,a socially-aware and charity-conscious clothing brand with a mission to kit out young fitness enthusiasts with unique, stylish and distinctive activewear at an affordable price.
Mellor had always wanted to start his own business, and did so in a field he is passionate about. In an ultra-saturated market, the fitness-orientated teenager had identified a niche by creating a catalogue of products at an affordable price, without letting the quality of his range suffer.
Mellor, who has a range dedicated to Breast Cancer Research, is also striving to create a community-oriented brand with an emphasis on building strong personal, not just professional, relationships with his entire network, from models to manufacturers.
Although Mellor is not yet 20, he has already made giant strides with Absolute Fitness Apparel. But his success is all his own making.
“Generally, this entrepreneurial side of things is sort of breaking the mould,” said Mellor, who funds the entire business through his earnings from his job at Heathrow.
“I don’t feel like there is a lot of support in terms of secondary schools and colleges for that at all. At school and college there certainly wasn’t enough information about setting up your own business.
“At college, I was doing my A-levels and the pressure the entire time was ‘you need to get your A-levels and go to university’ – I know a lot of people who have ended up dropping out of university.
“And they have said that the only reason they went was because they felt like it was the next thing to do. In my college in particular, and a lot of other colleges I know, they don’t really mention being self-employed or owning your own business.
“And even if you do something like business studies at A-level, I don’t think they prep you very well for it. The general consensus is that you leave school, get a higher education, get a job and you work in the job or career for ‘x’ amount of years.
“As a young entrepreneur, there wasn’t really anyone helping me along the way. It would just be myself going onto Google, watching YouTube videos or looking wherever I could to try and find information.
“There is enough information if you go out and look for it, but just as in business now, no-one is going spoon-feed you the information. You do need to do your own bit.”
Fisher and Mellor are indicative of a wider trend – an unabated increase in the number of self-employed. Now numbering 4.85 million, they give the UK its competitive advantage: flexibility.
And when you consider that they contribute £255 billion to the economy every year – enough to fund the NHS twice – and are generally the happiest people in our worforce, educational institutions really should be doing more to make self-employment attractive and attainable for our aspiring business owners.
Suneeta Johal, head of research, education and training at IPSE, said: “Both Ben and Anthony are typical of a generation of school, college and university graduates who are motivated by pursuing their passion instead of structured employment. In creating their companies ‘beu’ and Absolute Fitness Apparel, they have shown the potential of young business owners in the UK. We want this country to be the best place in the world to start and grow a business.
“We are partnered with eight fantastic universities who are doing brilliant things for self-employment. If all educational institutions followed suit and better prepared and supported their students to set up self-employed ventures, we could have so many more success stories.”