No train, no gain
Last week I wrote a post about potential changes in the world economy and labour market. The ideas were later built on by Rick at Flippchart Fairytales, Gareth Jones at Inside my Head and then Michael Carty as part of a broader review at XpertHR. Elsewhere there were also comments about doom mongering.
But these topics need a lot more debate. If HR is really step up to the plate then it needs to start tackle the big subjects, the ones outside of its immediate span of control. Sure if you want to sit in the corner talking about the next iteration of your performance review form and competency model, good luck to you. I think it is referred to as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. And stretching the metaphor beyond what is reasonable, would you say the person that shouted, “Iceberg!” was a doom monger?
So I was thinking how to unpack some of the themes in the original post and then yesterday I had an appointment with my physiotherapist. As she was pummeling my shoulder into oblivion we were talking about work the future and pensions. She was recounting to me a conversation she had with her father about how she was cashing in her savings and investing in professional development. Her father’s response had been one of caution, but as she explained to me, the competitive advantage and financial benefit should we reap through this was greater than the return that she was getting on her savings.
This seemed to me to epitomise one of the points that I made about development,
With the speed of development, who is going to train and skill or workforce? Universities? Colleges? Where the information they learn in the first year is our of date before the third year. When continuous learning and development really is critical to business success, who is going to pay? And what will they want in return?
A physio is a classic example of the sort of knowledge worker that I believe we will see more and more of within our economy. Mobile, normally self-employed, highly skilled and gaining advantage through those skills. They can choose to work when they want and as they need and follow demand. At the same time, of course, there is insecurity, high levels of personal investment and the need for constant continuous professional development. But then, couldn’t that apply to a number of other roles in the future? Even HR?
Ok, so I’m not saying that EVERYONE will be self-employed or employed on short-term contracts, there will be a core of directly employed workers. But even that will see a complete paradigm shift. If knowledge is key, if skills development is changing at a pace, then who will skill those workers and at what cost? Is the alternative to the freelance, portfolio career in essence a form of bonded labour?
These are the debates that the HR community needs to be starting, needs to lead. You may think this sounds extreme, but if you went back even thirty years and suggested that in the future large numbers of employees would be employed on fixed term contracts, that there would be “agency workers” and that pensions would almost be a thing of the past…..well, people would have probably laughed in your face too.