With the average family now spending more than a quarter of their income on childcare, it is vital that we find ways to encourage new ways of working that are flexible and allow parents to spend time looking after their children while still being able to earn a living.
One solution is to encourage “homeworking” and enable people to become self-employed through operating their business from home. Last week, my colleague Priti Patel and I had the pleasure of sponsoring an event for an organisation that uses such a model, Arise Virtual Solutions.
Arise operates virtual contact centres for some of the world’s largest companies by enabling people to become customer service agents and do everything they would in a conventional call centre but from the comfort of their own home. This allows them the chance to earn an income while at the same time benefiting from the flexibility of working their own hours.
So how does it work?
After enrolling with Arise and receiving the necessary training, individuals can then set up their own independent company. They are then effectively self-employed as agents in their own business which in turn serves the needs of the client company through the Arise network.
As with all businesses there are some initial start-up costs and each agent will need access to the internet through their own home computer (although additional equipment may be required such as a telephone keypad and headset). As long as they work a minimum of 10-15 hours per week, agents can work the hours that suit their needs. They can expect to earn between £6.50-£10 per hour and sometimes additional financial incentives and bonuses are available for excellent performance.
Arise currently works with 25,000 people across the US and with 1,500 people in the UK. They already count the UK’s largest online retailer amongst their clients and are seeking to expand even further.
We have been presented with an opportunity to promote an entrepreneurial spirit to those in our communities who may not have ever considered running their own business. The Government’s commitment to investing in superfast broadband is just one example of how we are helping to connect people to exciting new employment opportunities, but there is more that we can do.
One problem is that the initial costs of moving call centres back from overseas are significant but once they are back here, the running costs would be less. In order to bring jobs back to these shores, the cost of the move must be made more affordable and therefore more attractive to business and on this, America is taking the initiative.
Barack Obama is considering financial incentives for companies who can repatriate jobs of this kind from overseas and removing tax breaks for companies moving their jobs abroad. His administration has also passed a Bill to target all government departments on their use of homeworking to provide flexibility, lower carbon emissions and costs savings. Each government department will have to operate a certain percentage of their contact centre jobs under this homeworking model and officials will be held to account to ensure that this takes place.
I believe that by adopting a similar strategy and by offering such incentives in our own tax system, we could help bring these off-shored jobs back to this country. At the same time we can enable people to combine working with caring responsibilities or mobility issues the opportunity of working for themselves.