Reshaping business. Rethinking consultancy.

Quality Work? Please let’s talk more about Professionals!

There are so many headlines about Uber, Deliveroo, and the implications of flexible work in the so-called ‘gig economy’, you could be forgiven for thinking it was all low-paid and insecure. But it isn’t. A significant, growing, number of independent workers are professional people – often doing well-paid, high-quality work they’ve chosen and appear to enjoy.

At Odgers Connect we see many of those working at the very top-end, as independent management consultants – and match them with clients ranging from multinational private sector companies to small, growing businesses, not-for-profit organisations and the public sector. The overwhelming message we hear from consultants is that they enjoy what they do, and feel empowered by taking control of their professional lives. Many are building their own businesses, living off their consultancy income in the early years.  This is worth repeating: many independent consultants not only add enormous value to their clients but are using the income generated to create new enterprises, new jobs for others and increased income for the wider economy.  Should we not be encouraging this?  Shouting about it from the roof tops!?

Clients, meanwhile, appreciate the seniority and quality of working with an independent consultant – without the cost and complexity that often comes with a major firm. For many organisations in the voluntary and private sector – like housing associations and NHS Trusts – independent consultants apply expertise and experience to challenging problems they might not otherwise be able to afford.

Quality, well-paid and flexible work is also driving greater competitiveness – helping organisations to be more effective across the private and public sector and empowering new entrepreneurs. Surely, on both counts, it makes sense for UK plc to encourage and foster this – with the aim of creating more quality work at the higher end whilst also boosting enterprise.

As yet, there’s little indication this is happening. Instead any policy focus has centred on tax and rights. Whilst this is understandable at the low end of the contract, or “gig” economy, at the professional end it makes little or no sense.

We see various reasons for this, which need to be better understood to meet the challenges and opportunities of a transformation in professional employment. And this isn’t a trend that’s going away – in fact quite the opposite, the shift is being accelerated by organisations seeking more flexibility in how they source professional people.

Unfortunately the definition of “gig economy” used in most discussion around the recent Taylor inquiry on the future of work over the past year effectively excludes professional work. By defining “gig” work as that generated via online platforms, Taylor has, we believe, distorted the picture - and distracted attention from professional workers who are rarely sourced in this way.

Second, there is no simple official measure of professional people working independently – and we think there needs to be. Last month the Office of National Statistics effectively admitted this by finally adjusting its data on household income to include dividend income from micro businesses – making the national picture substantially rosier almost overnight. This is a welcome and overdue step, but also just the start.

Odgers Connect is committed to shining a greater light on independent professional work and what’s driving it across organisations. We also think independent professionals should be easier to identify and measure using official data, instead of glimpsed around the margins. We’re working on these challenges with outside partners with the aim of more effectively identifying the rising importance of independent professionals and consultants in the modern economy. More to follow soon. In the meantime please join us in a conversation about flexible, quality work in a changing world we should all want to foster. 

For more information please contact Chris Preston.