BRITAIN’S young people are becoming a generation of part-time professionals, balancing careers in areas such as finance and law to please their parents with “conscience” jobs to satisfy themselves.
The number of people aged 25-34 in part-time employment has risen by 24% since 2008, according to an analysis by the Office for National Statistics for The Sunday Times — more than three times as fast as the wider workforce. This group accounts for nearly half of the rise in part-time employment over the past five years.
Some of that growth has been driven by rising youth unemployment but increasing numbers of graduates are also rejecting the full-time career paths of their parents in favour of “portfolio careers”, which allow them to divide their time between a high-earning post in the City or accountancy with a second job that they consider more worthy or creative.
“We are seeing a growing trend among young people to get to the third or fourth year in the corporate world and decide they have had enough and want more flexibility. They want to set up an online business or work for a social enterprise — but alongside their corporate career,” said Sara Hill, chief executive of Capability Jane, a recruitment consultancy that focuses on part-time and flexible working.
More than 1m people have second jobs and surveys suggest that as many as 70% have them out of choice rather than necessity, according to Barrie Hopson, an academic who has researched the area.
“Generation Y is less interested than previous generations in material things and more interested in meaningful work experience and things they feel good about,” he said. “Their reference groups are their peers rather than loyalty to organisations.”
Katie Power, 29, is typical of the trend. She trained as a lawyer after university and worked at an international City firm for four years before realising she “hated it” and wanted to retrain as a Pilates instructor.
Rather than quit law completely, however, she became a part-time freelance legal consultant. Law provides her main income, but she has time to concentrate on her Body Control Pilates business too.
“I didn’t have a life at the law firm, I was working until midnight most nights and spending huge amounts of money on expensive dinners and holidays to compensate for the fact that I was miserable all day. I resigned and signed back on as a freelance legal consultant,” she said.
Whereas in the past, people in Power’s situation might have had a complete career change, flexible working and the internet have made dual jobs a possibility for hundreds of thousands of people.
“Technology means people can handle several jobs at the same time, which wouldn’t have happened even 10 years ago,” said Hopson.
Companies such as Lawyers on Demand, which finds posts for professionals who would rather work on a part-time or project basis than follow a traditional career trajectory, are beginning to cater to the trend.
One of its clients, Peter McBride, combines working as an intellectual-property lawyer with his part-time job as a vicar in Southwark, south London.
The company says lawyers in their early thirties or younger are its fastest-growing market, accounting for about 20% of its business. “This is a very recent shift and shows how more and more Generation Y lawyers are wanting to work differently for more autonomy,” said Simon Harper, co-founder of the firm.
Leo Mburu, 32, a trained accountant, gave up a permanent role at Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) to set up as a consultant to social enterprises.
Mburu, who was advised by Escape the City, a company that helps finance professionals “trade down”, is now employed by RBS on a contract basis and works for social enterprises for free, but plans to start drawing an income in future.
“I wanted more flexibility and control over the way I was working. I realised very quickly that my priorities were not the same as the bank’s,” she said.
Analysts expect portfolio careers to become a boom market as companies hit by the sluggish economy offer flexible working to cut costs. Research by the CBI found firms are “slimming down” to a small core of full-time permanent staff and a larger “periphery” of contract and portfolio workers.
Lucy James, 32, a conference manager who recently started a volunteer-matching service, persuaded her employer to give her a flexible contract while she built her business. “I work from home as I wish and we have an understanding on unpaid holidays. If I want to go on a three-week exploration in Thailand, I can,” she said.