Giles O’Halloran believes that the current working environment/climate means you have to have your wits about you and your head screwed on

In this piece, I will be looking at trends or changes in work that I hope will help you understand what is developing in the world of work. Often, survival is about how you perceive the world around you, how you adapt, and make the most of your situation. So, without further ado, let’s get started.

Job Insecurity v Job Security

Despite what many believe, there has never truly been a job for life. An individual may have stayed with an employer for an extended period (although this was not as common as some might believe), but they were likely to change their job or their role every few years whilst working for that employer. In reality, since the 1960s the average tenure in a job with a single employer has remained at four to five years, depending on the state of the economy.

However, despite this fact, the economic changes and the changing nature of work means there is probably a greater feeling of job insecurity. So how do we manage this? Instead of looking to employers for constant employment, we need to be pragmatic and look to ourselves to keep our skills, knowledge and experience updated, honed or perfected. Employers recruit, maintain and retain us for the skills and knowledge we possess. We therefore need to keep these current, develop new capabilities, new knowledge, vibrant professional/personal networks, learn from others and focus on life-long learning as a means of competitive advantage. Through doing so, we make ourselves more attractive, more marketable, and we then achieve greater employment security, rather than purely job security.

Meta-competencies v Competencies

For years, we have tried to classify work skills or capabilities into competencies. We have deconstructed work, identified the competencies we believe make a job and then we have assessed these through recruitment, appraisal and performance processes. However, working is not just about ability, it can also be about mind-set. Perhaps companies will therefore start to recruit for attitude rather than current skills, knowledge or experience.

If work is changing so swiftly, we need to develop the capabilities that allow us to adapt and develop new meta-competencies – the ability to develop new competencies. We need to be able to develop capabilities that make us more flexible, able to respond to change and that will arm us for future work. It is about being agile, being able to access knowledge through networks, creating a continuous learning capacity and a more social/mobile based business mind-set.

Know who v Know how

We have often de-skilled ourselves as new technologies or machines have entered the workplace. Typing has meant handwriting has declined, spell checks means our spelling has got worse and calculators have seen a decline in our mental arithmetic capability. Using technology is easier and a mammalian trait we are born with. Our natural instinct is to take the short cut, expend less energy etc., so we need to apply this to our understanding of work. What will employers or organisations to do expend less energy and therefore decrease costs? That’s what you need to think about to hone the value you can offer.

In the same light, the more we have specialised, the greater we have narrowed our skills at the cost of our breadth of capability. People are often described as “cash rich, time poor,” so rather than doing the work ourselves, we are more likely to outsource it as an employer to a specialist provider (such as HR, IT projects etc.) or pay others to do it as individuals (carpenters, gardeners etc.). So going forward, if we do not have the skill or time to do a particular piece of work, we will need to know who we can go to for advice or in order to get the work done at a competitive rate. This network and knowledge has real tangible value, and we can realise this value through managing effective networks, building both real and virtual relationships, as well as acting on recommendations from our networks. Knowledge then becomes the power to get things done.

Who knows who v Who you know

Developing the idea above further, you need to understand that networking is not just about immediate connections, but global reach. This is something that employers are realising and you will therefore need to compete more and more with a global talent pool. With the online and mobile platforms available, you and employers have the ability to expand your influence and tap into a greater network of know how. For you, this increased reach across the virtual world means that through understanding the true value of acquaintances and the extended network, you can extend the possibilities in the work you do. This capability could help you achieve the edge by saving you time, helping you secure work, create new ideas and share valuable lessons learned with others. The modern knowledge economy values the latent knowledge in you and your network, but you need to keep it alive and well maintained.

Micro-enterprise v Mega-corporations

Consolidation and acquisition will continue as trends, creating larger corporations with even greater global reach and influence. However, recent economic changes, lower start-up costs and cheaper technology means that we are also seeing SMEs multiplying. This is almost a paradox, but people want to do their own thing. Many have experienced redundancy and want to be free of the industrial, institutionalised and corporate world. These smaller organisations are the life blood of the economy, either servicing other businesses or the consumer directly. Even though the opportunities will still exist with the larger employers, you need to keep an eye on the smaller and newer companies out there. They are far more likely to be hiring, and to be creating new and exciting roles in an expanding market.

Agility v Adaptability

One of the key areas companies often recruit or assess people against is adaptability. This is because change is a key factor in the modern economy and employers want to ensure that employees are comfortable with or able to adapt to change. However, with the pace of change increasing through technological innovation, going forward I would argue that we need to be more agile rather than just adaptable. Agility is about being able to respond and adapt quicker to changes in our environment. Although the ability to change is important, being able to predict and respond to change faster will be a winning factor you need to consider as a portfolio skill – whether working for an employer or yourself.

Mobile, Social and Clustering

Work will continue to change and developments will depend on the people and technology. With technology becoming more mobile and social, you need to adapt and develop knowledge or skills aligned to this major change. This means you will have to understand mobile and social technologies to survive. There is no more I don’t get it, you simply have to invest time and get it. Those who keep a finger of the pulse have competitive advantage.

The growth of technology may mean we are able to work remotely and in virtual teams, miles apart from one another, but there will always still be a natural, social element that means humans like to work together. The advent of social media and online instant chat has meant that people still feel connected, but in a knowledge based economy we need to create ideas and we do this best through physical interaction. This is why we will see the clustering of skills around certain areas, people wanting to have proximity to others they can work and share experiences with. This will in turn increase the level of local services provided to support those clusters and so on and so on.

So be aware that although technology is changing the way we work, in an economy based on knowledge and information, we achieve this best through sharing and working together. We therefore need to find ways to break down the barriers technology and distance may create, and also be mindful of where skills are going to cluster for certain industries or sectors.

Underemployment v Unemployment

We always focus on the unemployment rate, and even though it may be lower than expected, we need to think about what is included in those statistics. The reality is that a growing number of people are underemployed in the labour market. They are doing roles beneath their skillsets or qualifications, often trapped due to their current personal or economic environment, their regional location or the shortage of roles that they really want to do. It is therefore means that a significant number of the workforce may be underemployed, especially with the current education systems being unable to meet the demands of future work. Hopefully, we may only experience short term periods of underemployment, but this is likely increase the competition for work opportunities out there. Whilst I respect that sometimes needs must and we take a job to see us through, don’t let a short term need become a long term trap.

Flexible Work v Flexible Working

Flexible working is becoming a more accepted way of working, but it has still not had the impact that many hoped for. Whether it is due to employers, managers or employees not taking this up or misunderstanding the concepts associated with flexible working is another debate. Working from home is what people most think of when discussing flexible working, but in reality we see more people mobile working, hot-desking, working flexi-hours, being based from home with travel or perhaps working in an office and one day a week from home. Charles Handy predicted that we would become portfolio workers, moving between employers on projects/contracts and selling our skillsets or capabilities on an open market.

Over a decade on, although we have seen the increase in microenterprises that may reflect this to some extent, the level of temp-workers or contractors has remained steady, and in fact more people seem to be seeking permanent work. This is probably due to the current economic environment and the simple need for financial stability, but change of this nature is likely to be continually cyclic.

Perhaps the future is going to be more about flexible work rather than just flexible working. This means being able to work from multiple locations and at different times, but there will also be greater focus on work fitting the needs of the community doing the work, rather than the employing organisation. This is a feature that a more networked, online, global talent pool and work force will create. Employers may therefore need to compromise and create more flexible work to accommodate their workforce if they are going to attract the best people.

It would be a great leap of faith for many, but it could develop greater, natural flexibility in the workforce and in productivity. It will depend on the economic environment, but it could provide greater options for organisations, whilst minimising longer term costs associated with property management, energy and business infrastructure. Some forward thinking organisations already understand this and are embracing this as a business imperative.

Job Evolution v Job Extinction

We are often told that certain jobs have disappeared for good. These include jobs like the typist, the printer, or the secretary. These changes have largely been due to technological innovation in the workplace and for reasons of cost. However, if we look more carefully at what has happened, it is often more about jobs evolving rather than simply disappearing. Although the once large printing firms may have vanished, we saw the rise of smaller info-graphic, graphic designer and desktop publishing enterprises. In the same light, the typist evolved into the administrator managing databases and online systems, and the secretary became the personal assistant or PA again using complex systems to manage workloads.

Roles throughout the economy have up-skilled, with the focusing more on the value a job can create through the service they provide and through the technology they use. So, be aware that although jobs and work may change, it is more likely to evolve than simply disappear. However, if a job is at risk of extinction, there is a real opportunity for you to provide it at a premium rate to clients in demand.

So, I hope these words have provided you with some high level advice on what I believe is and will happen with work. Remember the Forces analogy and cliché …. Adapt and overcome – it is a good start down the road to success.

About The Author

Giles O’Halloran is an experienced Recruitment and HR professional, with a wealth of knowledge in both sectors. He has worked for a number of large and respected organisations, including blue chip and global recruitment companies. Giles has spent over 15 years providing CV writing, interview preparation and professional networking support to clients in both the public and private sector. He also has over a decade of service in two branches of the Reserve Forces. Feel free to connect with Giles via Linkedin or follow him on Twitter via @GilesOHalloran