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Returning to STEM
Returning to STEM

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3 Working for yourself

More and more people are working for themselves, either as freelancers or setting up their own businesses, and this can be an attractive option to get back into work after a career break. Self-employment can mean the chance to work more flexibly and control your own working hours, something that can be helpful if you want to combine working with looking after small children.

The opportunities for starting up in business have expanded rapidly with internet trading and marketing. Digital start-ups can attract funding, either from venture capitalists or via crowdsourcing, so there are more options for trying something out. If you have technology skills, then this might be an option, but there are also plenty of other STEM related business opportunities.

Many digital start-ups begin as micro-businesses that exploit the spare capacity in assets or under-utilised skills and use the reach of technology to find an audience or market. This is the underlying model of many recent online businesses such as AirBnB and Uber.

Robin Chase describes how this idea of excess capacity inspired her to set up Zipcar, a car sharing business, when she was still a stay-at-home mum:

Leveraging excess proved to be an important component of Zipcar’s success. Before Zipcar, people in Boston who needed a car had just two options. They could rent in twenty-four-hour bundles, or they could own their own car, paying an average of $8000 a year in depreciation and costs for insuring, parking, maintaining, and fueling it. Zipcar allowed people to book cars near them in less than twenty seconds and rent them for as little as thirty minutes … I knew that Zipcar would win on the economics if it allowed people to pay only for the amount of car they actually used. The ‘excess’ could then be purchased by other drivers. Instead of owning 100 per cent of a car and using it one per cent of the time, it was possible to align usage and cost much more closely. And instead of one thousand urban residents owning four hundred cars, with Zipcar these same one thousand active drivers are satisfied with just thirty cars.

(Chase, 2015)

While it is beyond the scope of this course to give any detailed training or advice on how to start up in business, we have brought together some suggestions and links to some excellent organisations and networks specifically targeted at helping new entrepreneurs. These are detailed in the Further reading section, which offers some further guidance and resources for those of you who may be considering self-employment as your way to return to STEM.

Consultancy in STEM

One of the options for self-employment for those with a STEM background is to become a self-employed consultant in your field. Professional institutions may be able to help with networking and support if this is the direction you wish to take.

In this video, Barbara talks about how she worked as a consultant in the engineering industry after her career break, and highlights some of the advantages and difficulties.

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Having examined a range of flexible working practices you will now hear from employers about what they can offer.