From education to employment

With nearly 15% of FE college leavers going into self-employment, why is there scarce resource to support this vital industry?


Self-Employment Support for FE Colleges

With nearly 15% of FE college leavers going into self-employment, why is there still a lack of meaningful support and training available across the college network?  Andy Gullick, Chief Executive of the not-for-profit organisation RIFT Social Enterprise is on a mission to rectify this gaping hole in provision…

RIFT Social Enterprise (RSE) was established in 2018, initially to support ‘marginalised’ individuals who were keen to pursue self-employment as an alternative to traditional PAYE vocations, namely those serving prison sentences and the long-term unemployed. Its core delivery model is simple: offer unlimited business start-up support from a dedicated Business Start-Up Advisor for a full year, include access to an e-learning platform of resources, live and interactive webinars, specialist business mentors and tax advisors, and round it off with the completion of the client’s Self-Assessment tax return at the end of their first year of trading. RIFT Social Enterprise like to think of this as a ‘one-stop shop’ for all things self-employment related.

It is no wonder that such a service received so much interest, especially during a time when Covid-19 restrictions meant that traditional PAYE job opportunities became more difficult to secure. In fact, the service proved so successful that it was awarded the national Enterprise Network’s ‘Social Impact in Enterprise’ Award in November 2021.

However, the Chief Executive of RSE, Andy Gullick was not content with restricting this unique and powerful service to just people with convictions and the long-term unemployed so he set about exploring other cohorts for whom self-employment support could be of benefit.

A chance encounter with an FE college lecturer led Andy to discover a fact that was extremely paradoxical to him: at least 40% of courses delivered by FE Colleges would lend themselves to the student pursuing a self-employment career upon completion of their course (think of construction training, health and beauty, arts and media to name but a few), yet very few FE colleges have any formal support, advice or training available to their students about such a career path. 

As of May 2021, there were 234 colleges in England which deliver courses to 1.7 million students (AOC, 2021). 623,000 of these students were taking courses in engineering and manufacturing, construction, horticulture and agriculture and the arts, subjects which the majority of RSE’s traditional client base pursue their self-employment careers in.

So why is the option of self-employment rather than a PAYE role upon completion of FE studies so often overlooked? Research conducted by RSE based on discussions with two FE College providers highlights these as the two main reasons:

  • A lack of confidence and/or awareness of self-employment, including the pros and cons of being self-employed was cited amongst college staff, meaning that they did not feel confident enough to promote self-employment as a viable employment route to their students
  • Self-employment was often seen as a ‘riskier’ option for students who tend to prefer the security of employee-related benefits and the safety-net of working for a large organisation rather than ‘going it alone’

Yet the colleges that RSE spoke to also cited examples of great entrepreneurial spirit amongst their students, a creative flair in many that set them apart from their peers and a huge passion for turning something that they enjoy (such as barbering, music, or video production) into a profitable business.

So where does that leave us?

We know that there are thousands of students who leave college every year who could make a real success of starting their own business. This includes those working in the construction trade who must register as sole traders to work under the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS).

We know that save for a few excellent examples of business start-up support in a few colleges, there is generally very little available by way of self-employment awareness raising, training or practical support and/or signposting.

RIFT Social Enterprise is hoping to plug that huge chasm and will be piloting its various self-employment support packages at two FE Colleges from January 2022. This will include ‘train the trainer’ events for staff to help raise their understanding of self-employment, one day courses for students who may not have considered self-employment previously, through to its 12-month unlimited support programme which will seamlessly support students through the college gates as they embark upon their new business venture.

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  1. I agree with so much of this.
    There’s an opportunity for colleges to run follow up self employment courses or, better still, integrate them into existing courses for those that want them.