Thoughts From Jobseekers on How Work is Changing

It seems that barely an hour passes on digital communication channels without predictions, opinions and discussions appearing about the future of work. Those last three words alone now appear on bios and as individual specialisms. The battle is often between a dystopian view of the future where AI-powered robots have made all jobs obsolete and a more optimistic view where technology creates huge opportunities to bring more meaning, fulfilment and improved well-being to working lives. And amongst the unknown there are many commentators, bloggers and analysts who see certainty.

But how is work changing now, and what issues do employees face? We need to look more closely at the world of work as it is now and understand the trends, attitudes, and, behaviours that are currently driving change and that will continue to drive change.

To find out more about this reality, and rely less on the myth, Matt Alder and I partnered with Kelly Services to research more than 14,000 jobseekers across 10 European countries, capturing their experiences, hopes and opinions. The findings from this extensive quantitive research will be captured in a series of reports.

The first one has just been published. There were three key topics that jobseekers seem focused on – the quality of their work experience, the capabilities of their leaders, and the opportunity for some flexibility within their work.

A few of our findings:

  • How a company treats their employees is the main factor influencing someone on whether to apply for a job.
  • How they are treated during the application process will impact the decision on whether to join for 86%.
  • The number one thing people are looking for from their employers is the opportunity to learn new skills, which is ranked more important than salary increases.
  • There are no clear cut preferences on flexibility. For some it is location and for others hours. Whilst 58% felt working from home would improve their work/life balance, 48% believe that working from an office helps to keep work and home life separate.
  • The option to work from home wasn’t available to 61% in our survey, although 70% believed they had the technology to enable it.
  • The most important leadership qualities are accountability and honesty (except the UK where its awareness and decisiveness)
  • 53% of respondents had considered self-employment, but only 18% have any plans to become self-employed

One of our main conclusions was that for employees and jobseekers the reality is more about how they do their day to day job, and the ways technology may make their daily routines easier and more engaging whilst offering greater choice over how and where they work. Certainly the way they are treated and supported is much more important to them than working for businesses who embrace the latest fads and trends.

You can download a copy of the report here – hope you find it interesting.

I’ll write about some more findings when the next report is available.

The Elephant in the Room for Tomorrow’s Workforce

As you may have gathered from my previous blog I was impressed with CIPD12s first day session on unlocking the potential of tomorrow’s workforce. On the afternoon of day 2 I was at a keynote panel session on a similar theme – Building the Workforces of Tomorrow. This one left me feeling a little flatter.

Don’t get me wrong, the panel was good – Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD, Michael Davis, CEO of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, Anne Pickering, HR Director for O2, Toby Peyton-Jones Director of HR for Siemens UK & North West Europe and Jo Swinson, Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs – and the right noises were made early on about the need to train and utilise the skills of the new generation. O2 look for digital savvy people, Siemens believe that apprentices stay with you for life and big businesses should get involved in training their supply chain.

There was also some good insight from UKCES – I like their work, and used some of their research in a previous blog.

If I’m honest it was Jo Swinson who first gave me an uneasy moment which set a train of though off in my mind. Initially it felt like watching Question Time and she made the right noises about government concerns. Then she made an important point about workplace mindset not keeping pace with technological change…but then, almost as an aside, she referred to people applying for jobs and starting their cover letter with ‘hi’ instead of ‘Hi’. This was the reason they were getting nowhere in their job search she said, somewhat (in my mind) dismissively.

And then I thought about the previous half hour and the good intentioned comment from UKCES about the need for companies to invest 15 minutes in giving their rejected candidates feedback – as it would help them in their search if they knew where they were going wrong.

Jo’s comment was another instance for me of the up and coming generation being judged against standards of an older time (though Jo is almost still Gen Y herself)

  • Does the applicant need to write in their role?
  • With so many speakers across the two days talking of a shift from e-mail to social platforms does this grammar matter?
  • Given that no-one seems to write letters in business any more, and anything that is written will have been spellchecked, will anyone know that the original note started with h instead of H?

On the first day we heard of the positives of the Google Generation, how smart and savvy they were, but they are also the Spellcheck Generation – maybe some people see this as a negative.

We need to take their enthusiasm and encourage them, not dismiss them.

This wasn’t the only thing troubling me though. Laurie Ruettiman’s tweet – ‘I chuckle when a bunch of older white people attempt to deconstruct youth unemployment’ – also indicated something else about the conversation.

The panel were talking around the edges ignoring the elephant that was taking up a lot of the room.

The aren’t enough entry level jobs. There is a generation growing up who will probably never know proper full time work, never be truly economically viable.

We talk about skills and attitudes but the youth unemployment rate was rising long before current economic difficulties – and it’s a stubborn statistic that won’t reverse. Low skilled jobs that a 17 year old with precious few qualifications and social skills could do in a service sector dominated economy – stacking shelves, making sandwiches – are now done by unemployed graduates.

Kudos to CIPD for getting the conversations in the open and on to the keynote list. But I don’t think you can truly talk about building tomorrows workforce without also talking into account those who may never be part if it. And working out how you can use their abilities.

Whether they start a sentence in upper case or lower case really shouldn’t matter.

(For an interesting take on the discussion, including a proposal that many may think a bit radical, see Neil Morrison’s blog)