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FRSA Jane Gosney argues that, as more people from the creative sectors choose or are forced to go it alone as entrepreneurs or freelancers, the need to access life long learning opportunities and embrace the latest digital technology remains equally important.

The start of a new academic year has raised questions about how university education meets the needs of employers at a time when graduate unemployment is at an all time high. That there are a large group of older workers who will need to re-enter the workforce is largely ignored. Yet, for the economy to grow all members of the workforce need to have access to training to upgrade their skills as new technologies emerge.

In particular, relevant training is needed for a new generation of entrepreneurs to help prepare them to start up new businesses. Few sectors now offer jobs for life. However, future economic growth and regeneration requires us to equip anyone starting a new business with the relevant skills and the confidence to compete in a world market.

One of the greatest changes of the last twenty years has been the growth in use of information technology and the rapid rate of innovation in this area. The computer is now an almost universal tool with which we communicate and share ideas in every aspect of our lives. As the current generation of school and university students learn to be IT literate and familiar with the latest applications, their older peers may not have the same confidence or level of experience.

As people progress through a company, training is usually provided in order to support a leadership role. The realities of senior management means that overseeing staff and projects can overtake time spent on more creative processes, including developing new practical ‘hands on’ skills. Addressing this skills gap by enabling older staff to train on the job would not only increase productivity but could service to develop a more cohesive workforce.

These issues are particularly acute in the creative industries. My experience has been in the design world where people often initially seek employment to gain portfolio experience and some financial stability. However, many aspire to having their own businesses, which involve product design and manufacturing. This may be to fulfil a desire to have more creative freedom or could be a lifestyle choice linked to changing circumstances.

As more people face self-employment as a result of redundancy, too many will do so feeling disadvantaged and out of touch due to inadequate technology skills.

Technology has changed so rapidly that it has left some of the most innovative thinkers at mid-career stage using paper as their ideas medium. This can be frustrating but most worryingly it can be costly to a business. A lack of knowledge of the latest software can slow down communication or can mean that work is sub-contracted which with training could be done in-house.

Those who seek to start up on their own, either from choice or unpredictable circumstances, need to become independent in using the latest computer technology. In the design world, architectural and engineering drawing, photo-imaging, graphics and desktop publishing software have almost universally replaced paste up and drawing boards. Designs for costing, production drawings, advertising and packaging are all achieved by mastering the keyboard. Touch screen technology is not just another toy or gadget for the younger generation: the ‘office’ is now the laptop and the ipad.

In addition, an increasingly sophisticated internet community means that e-commerce is opening up new ways of trading and new markets. To participate in online trading, the entrepreneur will often need a working knowledge of how to write and update a website, understand search engine optimisation (SEO) and explore social networking sites.

An increasing frustration for many designers and entrepreneurs is the lack of relevant courses for potential small businesses that need to access training providers. Courses in IT for businesses are often very basic and do not offer a chance to build on existing skills and use the latest applications. The unemployed are offered CV writing workshops, which are only helpful if they are going to re-apply to rejoin a workplace scenario similar to the one they have left, not to start up in self-employment. Meanwhile, advice on self-employment tends to focus on how to register for national insurance contributions and understand the tax system.

To compete in the new world market we need to enable the older and self-employed workforce to access all that technology has to offer, and allow them to showcase bold new ideas. This means finding ways to provide life long learning for  those who want to go it alone and need support and confidence in doing so.

Jane Gosney FRSA FSLL is a lighting design lecturer, photographer and digital artist. For more information, please visit Jane Gosney's website.


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