THE BLOG

The Globalisation of the Cottage Industry

28/03/2013 16:19 GMT | Updated 27/05/2013 10:12 BST

As final year students are in the last stages of their degree, they could be forgiven for wondering why they are even bothering. The latest UK statistics make grim reading with half of last year's graduates either jobless or underemployed. In the current economic climate that seems like a raw deal for anyone, let alone someone carrying the burden of student loans. But is employment that desirable? Technology is transforming the workplace and our notion of the 9-to-5 job, to the extent that by the time these guys graduate the last thing they may want is gainful employment.

Thanks to the internet and crowdsourcing it's easier than ever to become an entrepreneur. Gone is the traditional business ecology, which catered only for large organizations. In its place is emerging an infrastructure streamlined for the micro-business. And just as Twitter sporned the citizen journalist, this new digital business ecosystem is giving rise to citizen entrepreneur where anyone can set up their own business.

At the moment small firms make up 99 per cent of all businesses in the UK, with 300,000 new ones starting each year. And with nearly 4.2 million people in the UK, now regularly taking on freelance work, it's clear that freelancing is no longer the niche industry it once was.

One of the reasons for this is that as demand for micro-business services has ballooned and broadened. The budding entrepreneur can now get everything they need to set up in a matter of not months, weeks or even days, but hours. From crowdsourced funding and bookkeeping services to IT support and e-tail payment systems. Going it alone has never been easier.

Until recently micro-businesses were relatively small-scale and local affairs. But today thanks to a thriving market place of talent it is possible to build up a skilled virtual-workforce, scaling or shrinking your business in real-time as your needs change, turning a cottage industry into a global phenomenon.

This is a far cry from cheap online labour being farmed out to the East. The tide has turned back closer to home shores but with a demand for skilled tasks at competitive rates. So rather than paying peanuts for menial tasks, technology is now being used to empower people, and liberate them from yoke of employment.

This really marks a fundamental shift in the way we work. Everyone has a skill to sell or something that they are particularly good at. But while some businesses try to encourage and harness such individualism, the vast majority instead tend to stifle it, forcing workers to conform to templated roles.

Now people - from graduates to seasoned workers - are realizing that there is another way, and it is a trend that is happening across a broad range of sectors. Just six years ago, when PeoplePerHour first started, the landscape was very different to what it is today, with freelancing still very much a niche 'occupation'. Back then it was mainly restricted to early adopters from a handful of sectors, such as IT professionals, journalists, writers and designers. Today you can get quite literally anything, from marketing, PR and business support to translation, photographic and artistic services. You name it; there is someone out there selling that skill.

And let's face it the labor market is ripe for disruption. At the first sign of losing altitude employers are all too willing to start to jettisoning jobs. But a dynamic marketplace of outsourced skilled labor has resilience built into it, making it capable of riding the storm of uncertainty and responding to economic changes quickly.

Today people are waking up to the fact that the drivers of the economy are not the fat cats at the top but the small folk at the bottom. What's more, corporate UK is now being held to account, with people blaming these behemoths of business for getting us into this situation in the first place.

So as graduates spurn the corporate ladder, gravitating instead towards setting up on their own, we can expect to see a gradual flattening of the power pyramid. The traditional job will start to look as antiquated as the notion of working for the same company for forty years. And as people start to strike a balance between work and play the 9-to-5 job as we know it will steadily fizzle out.

The beauty of this transition is that everyone wins. Flattening the pyramid will help to allow more innovative thinking to rise to the top. Besides giving people the opportunity to pursue their dreams, it will provide an economic boost too. The productivity of the economy will be far superior to what it is now with a workforce that's motivated to the max. And motivated they most certainly are. We all stand to benefit.