Rise of the i-worker

2003

A new breed of ‘i-worker’ who collects and processes information using technology is rapidly emerging as traditional white-collar and blue-collar job roles disappear, new research claims.

A survey of more than 1,000 workers carried out by Mori on behalf of Microsoft has found that almost eight out of ten UK workers now define themselves by their specialist skills and job functions.

Almost two-thirds - 64 per cent - now see themselves as ‘professional’, ‘skilled’ or managerial. A mere 13 per cent class themselves as ‘semi-skilled’ or ‘unskilled’.

Micorsoft says that this move towards i-working is being driven by hard economic realities. Globalised labour markets are putting traditional ‘blue collar’ work under intense pressure from cheaper, overseas labour markets.

This ‘muscle drain’ is changing the face of the British employment market, putting more emphasis on work that directly impacts on strategy, decision-making, the use of specialist skills and knowledge – i-work.

This trend is a natural fit with the UK’s labour market, Microsoft reckons, because three out of ten UK workers are overqualified for the roles they are employed to carry out and will strive to upgrade the intellectual content of their work, based on a desire to exercise personal skills and create job security.

However the research suggests that GB plc has some catching up to do it is to truly leverage the rise of the i-worker for competitive advantage. Only three out of ten workers see the availability of appropriate technology as standing in the way of tomorrow’s working practices. Conversely, more than four out of ten see company policy as a significant barrier.

Microsoft’s Steve Sinofsky said that technology is the critical component of i-work.

“I truly believe that businesses’ ability to harness this everyday innovation, by providing i-workers with appropriate software tools, will be the key to competitiveness in the information economy,” he said.

Carsten Sorensen, of the London School of Economics, and a member of the advisory board of the Work Foundation’s I-society, said: “In many ways, the UK is at the forefront in the rise of the i-worker.

“The challenges we now face are to embrace this cultural change and find ways to harness the pioneering potential within the British workforce that is driving it. Empowering people with flexible, powerful technology provides one solution, but organisations also have to introduce some form of governance and the challenge is managing both.”