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Will our children ever work full-time?

Alistair Cox

Chief Executive Hays plc

alistair cox hays plc

The last four years of economic upheaval have certainly caused employers and employees alike to fundamentally question the traditional views on work and the structure of labour forces and careers.  With mass layoffs and low levels of job security, employees question the loyalty shown to them.  With massive volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace, employers question how much of their skill base they need to retain on a permanent basis and how much flexibility they need to build in to cope with the booms and busts. Add in the aspirations of Generation Y who publicly declare how they value flexibility and fulfilment at work as much as money and career longevity and we have a heady mix of fundamental questions being asked of the traditional work model. It is unclear what the end result might be, but one aspect is clear and that is how much more important part-time, temporary and interim working is going to be in the workforces of tomorrow. Recent research by the International Labour Organisation estimates that part-time work has increased in two-thirds of advanced economies since 2007. Admittedly some of that will be due to the difficulties of finding permanent roles in the current climate, but I think it would be wrong to ignore the underlying trends.

The historic and unfair stigma often associated with freelance, temporary or part-time work is slowly receding in many areas. Certainly it is not a universal phenomenon – you cannot get a mortgage in certain countries if you cannot show you are in permanent employment, for example. That automatically excludes highly paid, highly skilled people who have chosen to build a career around freelance contracting roles.  How fair is that?  Yet more and more economies, companies and individuals are recognising both the benefits a flexible labour force can bring as well as the attractions of building a career along these relatively unconventional lines.  More and more I hear how people don’t value the prospect of a lifelong, secure job but hugely value the opportunity to build a portfolio career, almost a collage of interesting projects.

This raises some interesting dilemmas. Companies spend a lot of time and money training and developing their people. Endless hours are spent looking at succession planning and retention.  Is any of that worth it if your top talent is not interested in longevity and permanence? Can companies provide career paths that offer the interest of multiple project roles to their talent and keep them not just on-board but engaged too? How do employees with multiple projects on their CVs convince potential employers that they are not just job-hoppers but can bring real and lasting value to the business for the duration of their stay? And in our world of digitisation, do you need your people collected together or can they all work remotely because technology now makes that so easy?

With greater pressure on jobs and employers searching for greater flexibility, maybe the concept of temporary and contractor workforces is about to become much more mainstream because it is still a small percentage of the total in most countries. If so, what should we advise our own children in terms of how they should build their own careers when their experiences are likely to be very different from our own?

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