Recent research by Patricia Leighton for the European freelance association EFIP has revealed the evolution of a new species – The iPro.
iPros are highly skilled self-employed individuals who work for themselves but do not employ others. They range from journalists and designers to ICT specialists and consultants. iPros represent a significant segment of professional working generally, making up 25% of all those working in professional, scientific and technical work and 22% of all those in arts and entertainment. The growth in iPros in the EU since 2004 has been remarkable. Numbers have increased by 45% from just under 6.2 million to 8.9 million in 2013, making them the fastest growing species in the EU labour market.
In spite of this growth iPros are virtually invisible in academic literature, and in official statistics they are subsumed in either self-employment or SME data. Yet they supply a competitive supply of expertise to cater for constantly changing client needs and contribute to economic growth.
To find out more about iPros, the research aimed to find out more about about them and understand the reality of their working lives. The research was carried out in two phases between June 2012 and May 2013 and, apart from iPros themselves, involved leading academics, leaders of professional bodies, trade unions, administrators and politicians familiar with issues around iPro working.
What did the research find?
The research confirmed there is a major shift in the way work is performed – a shift from having a job to working for clients: A new and exciting radical agenda based on collaboration. However, there are also barriers to being an iPro.
The importance of iPro working is increasingly being recognized as having legitimacy. However, iPros do face constant accusations of “sham” self-employment. They feel they are treated with suspicion and hostility by fiscal authorities, ignored by politicians and marginalized by the wider business community.
Even so, iPros find their way of working fulfilling. Many choosing to work in this way have rejected standard employment, which they feel requires conformity and represses creativity.
The rise of iPro working marks a distinctive shift to a more collaborative way of working. iPros value autonomy and freedom, yet to be effective they need the appropriate support. As their specific needs are not recognized, iPros have developed their own supportive environments in the form of co-working spaces and professional hubs.
Placing iPros in SME or entrepreneur categories is considered misconceived. This emphasizes the definitional and categorization problems relating to iPros. Government policy favours traditional employment patterns and iPros feel that this is because they are difficult for policy makers. Policy makers tend to focus on job creation rather than work creation, an area whore iPros actively contribute. They neglect the indirect job creating potential of iPros who help businesses cut costs and become more efficient.
The findings of the research has led to a series of recommendations targeted at policy makers, professional bodies, clients of iPros and iPros themselves.
The recommendations relate to:
- Awareness, recognition and the contribution of iPro working.
- Finding a voice for iPros.
- Training and development.
- Providing support for iPros.
If implemented, these recommendations will enable iPros’ contribution to businesses and economies to be nurtured, and iPro workers in the EU will grow at an even faster rate.
For full details regarding the policy recommendations, and to find out how much further the species can evolve, go to:
Jeremy Blezard, iPro