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The changing world of work

The closing of the UK’s last final salary pension scheme to new entrants  in January 2012 signalled that the ‘job-for-life’ era is well and truly over. In reality that career concept died in the 1990’s. Since then technology advances, global competition, regular booms and busts with institutional shareholders demanding immediate results and ever increasing profits have changed things radically. Which has implications for us all whether we are just starting, in full flow, or have already peaked!


The pursuit of the cheapest source of labour, commoditising jobs and exploring ways of making workforces flex have all had much attention. Off shoring and outsourcing are trends that have grown rapidly along with a growth in interim, contractor and freelance workforces.

The demographics of the workforce have changed. During the skill shortages late in the last century employers needed to recruit from new areas of society. Diversity became a major theme for many, particularly in large employers. Employment became more mobile and organisations sourced from increasingly wider geographical talent pools.  Women formed a growing portion of the working population, especially in service industries and increasingly in City banking and finance where they have been historically less well represented. Working practices are continually evolving to attract & retain the diverse mix that makes up the workforce now. 

These changes have already affected us and our careers. The pace of change is not slowing up. It’s likely to accelerate.

The psychological contract between employers and employees has radically changed as a result of repeated knee-jerk hiring and layoff patterns mirroring the boom and bust cycles of the past two decades. It is now increasingly transactional. Surveys say that professional people entering the workforce today expect to work for an increasing number of employers during their career.

There is a growing number of graduates joining the UK job market. More than there are appropriate jobs. This has been the case at least since 2008. A reduced number of graduate trainee hires has been made compared with numbers pre-recession. Because of this failure to keep filling the professional stream from the bottom, skill shortages will work their way up the chain. Pension underfunding means those currently in employment are likely to need to work longer and may therefore block jobs they otherwise would have vacated.

People beginning a career today are likely to consider the prospect quite differently than those already in the middle of one.

In academic terms we have moved from a traditional ‘organisational career’ with linear advancement and stability to what are known as Boundaryless and Protean careers.

Boundaryless careers have three main characteristics.

  • They are more mobile within and outside organisations than before;
  • They involve more networking and self-marketing 
  • They assume a high degree of career self-responsibility.

Protean careers bear close similarities to boundaryless. A Protean career is more an indication of attitude or approach to a career. The two distinctive features of this approach are that a career is self directed and that it is values–driven. Individuals make career decisions to meet their own values and goals rather than adopting those of their employer.

What’s happening in 2012? The increasing contradiction and apparent disconnect between employers and employees looks like continuing according to facts contained in December 2011's financial services survey from the CBI and PWC.

Since Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008 they calculate 81,000 jobs have been shed in the FS sector in the UK. Another 10,000 are forecast to be lost in Q1 of 2012. However the sector experienced its 7th consecutive quarter of increasing business volumes in the three months to December.

Uncertainty caused by the Euro zone debt problems and the cost of new regulation means many FS organisations will be looking for cost efficiencies in 2012. So it might be a good year if you are in regulatory reporting, accounting policy or compliance. It’s likely to be bad news if you are in a role that can be easily commoditized and off shored.
All the evidence we see, from academics, from current surveys & from leading thinkers on UK employment, is pointing at the same thing. We are already responsible for directing and managing our own careers. We need to ensure that we are equipped with the right skills for tomorrow. In the coming years the relationship between the employer and employee will become increasingly transactional as organisations continue to create slimmer, more flexible workforces and people pursue individual careers driven by their own values.

Related Links

 For Books we recommend. Including those below. 
 For more on the future see  Richard Donkin – The Future of work
 For more on the theory see Career Management by Greenhaus, Callanan & Godshalk.