What Factors Directly Impact The Growth of Self-Employment? (A mini case study)

We were recently commissioned to undertake an in-depth market analysis for an exciting new app development company. One of their products will be aimed at the self-employed, particularly those people who are operating in the gig economy. They had a lot of data relating to the fluctuations in the number of self-employed people and asked us if we could bring some deeper clarity, so they could better assess the potential size, value and risks associated with this target market.

One of the first things we decided to do, was to produce a timeline to show the fluctuations in the number of self-employed people over the last 20 years. Once we had a visual representation of the data, we decided to add a layer of significant global events to the timeline, just to see if there were any obvious scenarios that affected the rise and fall. Here’s what that looked like:

From the graph above, it could be argued that the period around Labour’s rise to power in the UK, the death of Princess Diana and the shocking events of 9/11, could well have created a perfect storm that significantly impacted the growth of self-employment. If you cast your mind back to that time, it certainly was a very strange moment in history and definitely caused a degree of global uncertainty. Whether this had a direct impact on the number of people becoming self-employed or not is unknown, but it’s possible that we’re on the cusp of another perfect storm right now.

Brexit, Trump, the threat of global nuclear war and the daily revelations of abuse , etc. could be creating another era similar to 1997-2003, when the general feelings of uncertainty and anxiety causes people to be less likely to take on the risks associated with self-employment. We simply won’t know until after the event. What we can say, is that apart from that period of decline, the number of self-employed in the UK has been steadily rising over the last 16 years.

One of the reasons for the continued growth, is the emergence of the gig economy. The rise in the number of freelancers working in various roles online, technology advances that have created opportunities like Uber drivers, the massive increase in online shopping that is fueling the number of couriers busily delivering all our purchases, are all contributing to the number of self-employed people.

Whilst technology is definitely helping to create more self-employed and micro businesses at the moment, it’s these technological advances that could ultimately prove to be the reason for a massive, unprecedented decline in the same. Many of the companies that are currently disrupting traditional business models, are investing heavily in technology that could destroy the jobs they’ve helped to create.

Uber is investing in producing driverless cars, Amazon wants to deliver it’s parcels via drones and is developing robots capable of doing many of the jobs in its warehouses. Both of these types of technology are also capable of wiping out jobs in food delivery, which is another area that has seen a huge rise in self-employed operatives over the last 5 years.

Even what we do here at Pivotal Data could be considered to be under the threat of disruption from technology such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and predictive analytics. Luckily for us, we’re huge advocates for the importance of human layers of information and believe that it’s the combination of technology and people that creates the perfect environment for gaining meaningful insights in your business.



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