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Across the European Union 40% of workers are in non-standard work, including self-employment and part-time work. In the UK nearly 5 million people are self-employed. And these segments are growing.

If you’re employed, it’s pretty likely you have access to some of the following: training, coaching, mentoring, away days, a learning and development budget to spend, a team to learn alongside, and at the very least an annual 360 degree feedback process. No doubt many organisations could do far better when it comes to learning provision, and they might struggle to cater to the breadth of needs and the pace of change, but nonetheless, it’s a support structure.

When you become self-employed you become responsible for your business development, paying your taxes, managing your time and providing your own equipment. It’s not talked about as much, but you also become fully responsible for your continual learning and development. As we motor deeper into the 21st Century, knowing how to be a lifelong learner seems increasingly strategic.

"Workers will need to find ways of upskilling and reskilling themselves, whether to move into hi-tech or hi-touch roles, or because their current job is transformed." - RSA Future Work Centre

If you’re self-employed there’s no free training, no budget unless you put one aside, and there are infinite options to navigate which can be tricky without experience. Should you cough up for a coach? Should you try (against all odds) to complete some online courses? Should you be saving in case you need to formally retrain at some stage? Should you join a solidarity network like SMART which allows members to access improved rights and learning and development services?

You’re navigating a system that was never designed or created with you in mind; it’s an archipelagic system. There are many ‘islands of possibility’ but the pathways through are unclear, access is unevenly distributed - and there are gaps. So how might we support this growing segment of the workforce for whom lack of provision is particularly acute?

I’m currently participating in the Economic Security Impact Accelerator, organised by the RSA Future Work Centre and Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. I’m participating alongside organisations such as Trezeo, IndyCube and Earwig, and I’m exploring how I might scale the impact of my lifelong learning startup Enrol Yourself. Economic security can be defined as ‘harmful volatility in people’s economic circumstances, including exposure to objective and perceived risks to economic well-being, and capacity to prepare for and recover from shocks’. The aim is to explore how we, as a varied cohort of organisations, can ‘shift the system’ so that it works better for those experiencing insecurity - and self-employment has been central to the discussion thus far.

Better lifelong learning (alongside clearer employment regulations, stronger worker voice etc.) is part of the solution, and that’s what we focus on at Enrol Yourself. We are a social business equipping 21st Century adults to grow themselves, together, through the power of peer groups. We train hosts who initiate local peer groups and then guide them through our 6 month learning accelerator: the Learning Marathon.

To date, 50% of our learners have been freelance, self-employed or part-time workers with no access to the employee benefits previously mentioned. This summer we’re hosting our first peer group exclusively for freelancers, self-employed and those aspiring to be. Bringing people together at different stages of their journey has potential to positively impact their economic security, resilience, professional skills and personal wellbeing - all from within an environment of solidarity and support.

The more (objective or perceived) volatility people face, the more flexible lifelong learning needs to be, and the greater the need to move beyond a fixed, curriculum-led approach to learning.

"Given the transforming economic and social environments of the twenty-first century, ‘industrial’ approaches to education are increasingly in-congruent with our current and future context." - Global Education Futures report, 2018.

What we aim to do is create a learning ‘scaffold’ that can flex to support a diversity of learners with different needs and challenges. This means that needs can change in accordance with the changing world of work, or other changes in society, but the scaffold itself remains relevant and effective. It’s a process-led approach to learning that is most suitable for learners who need to develop ‘21st Century’ skills such as creativity, collaboration and problem solving.

As part of the Economic Security Impact Accelerator I’ll be further exploring; our role in populating the lifelong learning no man’s land; how adaptive, process-led learning can be scaled inclusively; and how to remain in dialogue and partnership with other projects so that we might multiply one another’s impact.

I’d love to hear from anyone who is exploring similar questions. Feel free to get in touch via zahra@enrolyourself.com


  • The freelancer Learning Marathon is a 6 month part-time accelerator open to freelancers and aspiring freelancers. It starts at the end of June, applications due June 10th. Bursaries are available - find out more
  • We’ve just released some free resources for ‘buddying’ - an approach to self-organised learning that is particularly useful for freelancers and independents looking for structure. Download our learning pack (PDF, 2.2MB)

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