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10 May 2021

Digital entrepreneurship and the changing nature of employment

Digital platforms are changing the nature of youth employment in the UK, offering new routes into work and shaping an emerging generation of entrepreneurs who, for the first time, are able to make a sustainable living without leaving their bedrooms.

King’s student Monica Richards is looking at the changing nature of youth employment. Picture: MRICHARDS

However, despite the boom in digital entrepreneurship, there has been little work done into the impact of these platforms on youth employment and what barriers, opportunities, and guidance is on offer for a new generation of workers in the UK.

Now, King’s student Monica Richards is hoping to change that.

As well as being a second-year philosophy, politics and economics student, Monica is herself a digital entrepreneur, making use of the platform Depop to sell second-hand clothes and accessories.

Through her own experience, Monica became acutely aware of the power and potential of digital platforms for young people, many of whom are earning full-time salaries from home, and she believes they could be transformative for the world of work in future.

Monica, a member of the Department of Political Economy, said: “I believe that digital platforms such as Depop are transforming youth employment opportunities, particularly in the UK. With increasing youth employment freezing that followed the 2008 financial crisis, e-commerce platforms have provided young people with a space to foster digital entrepreneurship and transferrable skills.

“Depop is a peer-to-peer marketplace that fosters a community as well as transferable skills such as budgeting, product presentation and promotion, social media outreach, understanding consumer demand, and more.

“It champions sustainable fashion, for example with users 'up-cycling' clothes, selling deadstock garments, or thrift shop steals which might otherwise be destined for the landfill. The implications of this require spotlighting, and thought given to what policy recommendations ought to arise as a result to protect young people using the platform.”

Following a conversation with Professor Jacqueline O’Reilly, co-director for the Digital Futures at Work Research Centre, Monica was put in touch with Dr Ayomikun Idowu and a research partnership was formed. An application was made to the Digital Innovation Fund and the team received a grant of £25,643 to support a project examining digital entrepreneurship in the UK and Nigeria.

I am also incredibly fortunate to have had a lot of autonomy with this project with who I interviewed and when, flexibility with my studies, and to have devised the questions myself

Monica Richards

Monica has been focussing on the UK side of the research and her work has so far included compiling research questions, conducting interviews with Depop sellers, and creating and collecting consent forms.

She has also carried out an interview with Depop’s chief of staff, Chidi Onwudike and presented alongside Dr Idowu at an online event, Digit Debate, hosted by the Economic and Social Research Council in November.

The research team will be compiling a report for the International Organisation of Employers, which is supporting the project, and it is hoped that a journal article and blog series will also be forthcoming.

For Monica, the experience of working on the project has been invaluable.

She said: “I've been able to familiarise myself with qualitative research software which has been a personal goal for a long time, as well as connecting with academics who also received the grant to see how their projects have progressed.

“Interviewing Chidi Onwudike was deeply rewarding – it was fantastic to hear her perspectives, and to better understand the company values. I am also incredibly fortunate to have had a lot of autonomy with this project with who I interviewed and when, flexibility with my studies, and to have devised the questions myself. I cannot wait to use these skills in both future research projects and in my career too.”

You can find out more about the project, Digital Entrepreneurship on Retail Platforms: A way to formalise employment for young people in the UK and Africa, by clicking here.