The Future of Work: "it's life Jim, but not as we know it"


In 1977, the year that Elvis died, there were 150 impersonators in the USA. Now the figure has swollen to 85,000 (including the ten member "Flying Elvi" skydiving team!) If the same rate of growth continues, Elvis impersonators will account for a third of the world's population by 2019.

They won't of course, but this illustration that trends seldom develop in predictable way – gleaned from a recent article by Richard Tomkins in the Financial Times - could equally well be applied to the world of work.

A few years ago, various scenarios about the future of work were bandied about, ranging from a Doomsday scenario predicting that accelerated downsizing and advances in technology would leave vast swathes of the UK population permanently unemployable, to the far happier prospect that the same advances would leave us employed but with huge amounts of extra leisure time.

But as it turned out, (OK, so I'm hedging my bets) neither scenario has materialised. In fact the second option rings very hollow to those of us who we are wired (or wireless as applicable) "24x7" by email and mobile communications.

But this doesn't necessarily mean that we should take too cynical a view of those who offer predictions and analysis about the future of work, because like it or not, the shape and definition of the "workplace" has changed radically in little more than a generation.

Employers in particular need a vision of what the future might look like since the workforce is getting older, competition for candidates is on the increase and skill shortages show no signs of abating despite some labour market jitters.

The big issue for traditional employers are the sheer number of alternatives now available to individuals. Flexible working, the interim market, "portfolio careers", "portfolio jobs" - all present attractive alternatives to the old-school nine-to-five job and show no signs of going away.

I don't consider myself to be particularly unusual , but I currently have four jobs

For example, I don't consider myself to be particularly unusual , but I currently have four jobs. (Sadly, only one can be said to pay what passes for a regular wage, but that is another story entirely.)

This arrangement is nothing remarkable these days, but my late father would scarcely have recognised it.

This "new world" of work poses challenges even at the most basic level. In my case, this is as basic as how many business cards I might carry and which one(s) I give to people I meet.

As it happens, I have three, but perhaps I should get a business card that covers all eventualities? If so, what should be the job title to put on it? "Polymath" perhaps? Or would that be the quickest route to a deserved slap around the head (verbal or physical – take your pick) for arrogance?

Joking aside, the one thing that employers I have heard discussing the future and their "employer brand" have forgotten to consider is choice.

Whenever I hear employers discussing how they are going to compete for talent, the focus always seems to be on competition with other employers.

What they seem to forget is that today's technology savvy workers already have more opportunities than ever to make a distinct choice between corporate life and working, in whatever capacity, for themselves – developing their own personal brand if you like.

Forward thinking employers would be wise to view this element of choice as just as serious a "competitor" as they consider any other employers.

As for me? Well, in view of the fact that trends and predictions for the future are so often incorrect, I am going to try to cover all the possible options so that if I can I remain more or less employable. And if that means popping out to purchase a rhinestone-studded white jumpsuit, black hair dye and sunglasses – well then, Viva Las Vegas!

About The Author

Steve Huxham
Steve Huxham

Steve Huxham is a senior recruitment professional with nearly nineteen years experience, first becoming a Director of a leading accountancy and City recruitment practice at the age of 29.