The shape of things to come

Experts
have been predicting a vast change in the face of UK business, with people
getting older and more woman and immigrants in the workplace.  But if the past decade is anything to go by,
what will really happen?  Jane Lewis
asks business leaders for their views

Stephen
Bevan, Associate director, Institute of Employment Studies

"The
way that work has changed has been overstated. If you look at figures from the
mid-1970s, the average time spent in a job was five-and-half to six years, now
it’s around five years. Self-employment peaked in the 1980s and has in fact
come down.

"Although
there has been a 20 per cent increase in teleworking since last year (with 6
million people now working remotely), most people still want a traditional
working framework. So while there has been a shift at the edges, the mainstream
picture hasn’t changed much.

"Looking
ahead, the big overview is continuity, but there will be significant marginal
changes. At the moment, the market is very buoyant, but if the economy gets
worse, we’ll see less mobility. The whole work-life balance debate will become
much more important.

"In
the next 10 years, 80 per cent of new jobs created in the economy will be for
women, yet the majority of women are now giving birth to their first child in their
30s, so that’s going to lead to a lot of high pressure.

"In
the past few years, there has been a rapid reduction in the economic
participation of men over 50 but for women over 50, the rate has gone up. And
with a much higher proportion of people living until they are over 85, the
other thing that has come up on the rails quietly is ‘elder care’, which is a
potential time bomb. We’ve spent the past 15 years worrying about employees
looking after their children, but this is a completely different ball game and
most employers aren’t doing anything about it.

"In
the next decade only a minority of the workforce (20 per cent) will be white,
able-bodied men under 45, so diversity won’t be a choice for employers, it is a
nettle they are going to have to grasp now.

"The
influence Europe will have will be a rise in social partnership with employee
representative bodies. Most trade unions in the UK are keen to develop a more
formal role in organisational change and communication. That said, it is
unlikely a future Conservative government would sign up to something like the
Business Directive on Consultation, and the emphasis would switch again to
greater deregulation."

David
Norburn, Dean of Imperial College, London

"Where
do I stand on the immigration debate? Well, I would export all our low-value
people and bring in as many high-value people from outside as possible.

"Joking
apart, we need these high-value people – and we need them now. I see nothing
but benefit from the move, because the greater wealth these people would
generate would trickle down to others.

"The
problem, of course, is the political/social side of this. If you happen to be
an unskilled, uneducated BNP voter and you see a highly skilled non-Brit taking
your place, you are going to be aggrieved. Take Hong Kong for example. Here we
had huge numbers of high-value, high-tech people who wanted to come to Britain in
the aftermath of the handover to the Chinese in 1997. The case was made on both
economic and social grounds. So why didn’t we take them? Because it was too
dangerous politically. There is a big societal argument about whether democracy
is suitable in such a society any longer. We have to bring the economic
argument into it.

"The
figures say there are 1 million people unemployed at present, but the number of
long-term unemployed is much lower. The question is how we go about
re-motivating and educating them and building up different skills bases. You
have to ask why the Government continues to support low-value industry with subsidy.

"It
is clear that training and development generally is going to be a massive new
industry. The idea that you emerge fully formed at 21 is laughable – in an
environment of much greater flexibility, people will have to learn new tricks
and skills throughout their careers. I think we’ll see a whole series of
alliances between brand names such as Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial, and mass
distributors such as Murdoch and Sony."

Peter
Robinson, Senior economist, Institute for Public Policy Research

"Currently,
the scale of the skills shortage across the whole of the UK economy is
surprisingly muted compared with the economic cycle we are at. It’s much lower,
for example, than at the end of the Lawson boom in the 1980s.

"But
people have short memories. The ultimate sign of a real skills shortage is high
wage inflation — and that isn’t happening. Certainly the gap between
management salaries and [blue/white-collar] pay is widening. But that’s down to
a different trend that has been continuing for some time.

"The
safety valve of bringing in skilled immigrants has always played a role and
should continue to do so. But we’re talking about tens of thousands of people,
and that’s relatively small beer. The EU decision [to restrict the movements of
workers from new Eastern European member states for up to seven years after
they join] is a panic-driven step – and anyway affects border states such as
Germany and Austria much more than here.

"The
UK workforce will continue to evolve in the same way as the past 20 years.
Again, specific trends have been over-estimated. For example, the proportion of
the workforce that is female (45 per cent) has plateaued since 1993, and both
self-employment and homeworking have fallen. As long as you can avoid the kind
of severe economic shock that we saw in the early 1980s (when there were huge
losses in manufacturing jobs), the labour market tends to evolve over time and
the supply side adjusts to meet it.

"Manufacturing
will continue to edge down as a proportion of total employment. But the high
exchange rate has exaggerated job losses in this sector – if the pound came
down, these losses would be more modest.

"I
think the direct impact of the US downturn on the overall economy is likely to
be muted, it depends what impact it has on the overall economy. But confidence
in the UK is currently high. On the whole, I am sanguine about the
future."

Graeme
Leach, Chief economist, Institute of Directors

"People
often forget how very, very traditional the labour market is. Our Tomorrow’s
World report compiled last year showed that despite the predictions of 20 years
ago, the proportion of flexible working/homeworking is still relatively small.
But undoubtedly the trend is moving in that direction, and the speed of the
change is quickening. There has certainly been a shift in attitudes among both
employers and employees. When we asked companies if flexible working was
working for them, two-thirds said yes. And, for many, cost is certainly an
important factor likely to accelerate the pace of change, as are changes in
people’s home lives.

"In
terms of long-term change, I would predict a rise in the ‘contingent
workforce’. At the moment, the core workforce stands at about 90 per cent but I
think that will shrink to about 70 per cent, as companies look to devolve
administrative functions that take up huge resources. We’ll see a rise in the
number of people working short-term contracts.

"There
will always be a skills shortage in certain areas that can be met from outside
the country. The IoD argues that the education system is failing – we’d like to
see more choice and competition. If forthcoming education reforms aren’t
competitive enough, companies will naturally want to look elsewhere for these
skills."

Amin
Rajan, Chief executive, Create

"Will
it be a case of more of the same over the next 20 years? Well, yes and no, says
the author of Britain’s Flexible Labour Market: What next?

"If
you were to take a snapshot of the market you would see a gradual continuance
of historical trends – the number of white-collar jobs will continue to
increase, as will the number of female employees and ‘job insecurity’ will
remain a main preoccupation.

"But
upon closer inspection, there is huge change. First, the nature of work itself
is changing. Job descriptions will become very fluid — agility will be the
name of the game, and the winning mind-set will be the one that copes with
uncertainties and ambiguities.

"Second,
we’re going to see a greater casualisation of jobs at the lower end. The only
people prepared to do jobs like refuse collection that are highly underpaid and
require long hours will be illegal immigrants. Employers are increasingly
resorting to this pool of labour. The whole issue of asylum is not really
political: it’s fundamentally about economic migration. The manager of a
five-star Kensington hotel told me that 95 per cent of the people who work
there are illegal immigrants. This hidden economy is going to get bigger —
there’ll be a lot of people hidden from the statistics.

"Third,
we’re going to see a tremendous segmentation in the labour market between rural
and urban and inner-city areas.

"One
stable trend is full employment. There’ll be no more boom and bust — we’re not
going to see 8 or 9 million unemployed as we did in the past. I was on the Treasury
economic advisory board under both Healey and Lawson, and think policy-makers
now are better at managing economies — there aren’t so many sharp
currents."

Wyndham
Lewis, Chairman, Strategic Planning Society’s People, Work and Change
Think-tank

"To
a large extent, you can trace employment trends to what was happening 10 years
ago (for example, there’s a shortage of chartered surveyors at the moment
because of the slowdown in house prices a decade ago) – people follow the cash.
At present, there’s a surfeit of web designers, but hardly any engineers. I
think the former group is going to find it very hard going over the next five
to 10 years.

"Immigration’s
got to become a greater issue given the greater movement of capital. It’s
already happening in an outward way – virtual corporations are moving all over
the world. But there’s a fundamental problem in the approach of governments –
they encourage the free move-ment of capital, but they won’t allow people the
freedom to follow it.

"There’s
definitely a racial bias in the UK’s immigration policy – and this is played up
by the media. At the end of apartheid in South Africa, the Government was very
willing to grant many [white] South Africans passports, but markedly less
willing to do the same for the Hong Kong Chinese. The highest projection for
the UK’s ethnic population is 15 per cent.

"I
disagree that the future pattern is one of stability. The economy will remain
very cyclical in nature – there’ll always be boom and bust. And I think there’s
a definite trend towards greater social inequality, both in the UK and across
the world. We’re going to see two very distinct tiers of workers: those with
lower skills who will have to compete on wages, and higher-level workers, able
to travel, who will be able to command what they ask. What should the
Government do about this? Apart from providing the best possible education for
the country, not much. If you try and create equality, you just create
inequality in other areas."

Richard
Reeves, Director of futures, Industrial Society

"Because
the ‘revolution in the workplace’ keeps getting proclaimed and never seems to
arrive, I think there’s a cynicism developing that nothing’s going to change.
Certainly the information and communications revolution has remained marginal
in terms of the way we work – people still go to the office, sit behind a desk
and deal with in-trays.

"The
analogy I draw is the introduction of electricity. When it first arrived in
factories, people continued to cluster machines where the old steam engines had
been – it took a long time before someone realised that this electricity stuff
went along lines. There are signs that people are getting more confident about
mobility at work. Employers need to learn that you can trust people to do their
jobs properly without being quite so rigid. Scott Adams talks about reverse
telecommuting: you come into work to do your admin – to pay your bills and
e-mail your Mum — the real work gets done at home.

"A
key trend is the emergence of a highly skilled group of people (typically
involved in the creative industries, ICT and knowledge) who are sceptical about
employers’ promises of security. Very individualistic and relatively
battle-hardened, they’re the ones companies are having trouble attracting.

"But
work is also becoming an increasingly important part of people’s overall
identity. One in three people say they’ve made good friends through work and
half of us meet our life partners. Work is increasingly about community,
identity and friendship. It is almost a post-economic definition of work – ‘I
am what I do’. Individuals are already feeling this, employers need to catch
up."

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