The future workforce

If you’re unable to make it to #TruLondon then below is the provocation that I’ll be putting forward in the stream entitled Future Workforce. Please feel free to share your views and we will try to include them in the debate.

“The employment market as we know it is broken. For all we know, it is broken for all time. There are record levels of unemployment, record levels of youth unemployment and yet steadily high levels of unfilled vacancies.

Successive Governments have been incapable or unwilling to address the problems. Private enterprise is consistently moaning about skills shortages but doing little if anything to cure their own ills. And the recruitment industry, which could (and I stress COULD) be the cohesive force, is intellectually stunted, focussed on short-term gain and happy to flog the proverbial dead horse to within an inch of its life.

The problem requires a new way of thinking, a new model. It requires thought leadership, experimentation and innovation. And more than ever it requires courage. But where we see these elements, we also see significant mainstream media pressure to desist. Unpaid internships, government work schemes, university funding changes have all been the subject of liberal left outcry and hysteria.

These solutions might not be correct, but there are few alternative solutions being presented by the critics. Instead they are happy to bathe in the warm glow of self-satisfaction whilst the economy crumbles around our ears.

If we are to solve the problems, we need to think in a totally different way. We need to accept realities that we find unpalatable, but are not without historical precedent. Bonded labour, a significant increase in the single employee company, portfolio careers, a low education but high skill economy.

We need to start the thinking now and only through debate and disagreement will we reach truly innovative 21st century solutions. And we start right here, right now. Or we accept that we are irrelevant , lose competitive edge and ultimately die.”


  1. Recruiter List (@REClist) · February 23, 2012

    A biggy this one and from the lack of comment I guess many people are stumped.

    1. The main problem seems to be Education and it’s relationship to Employment. With the Aprenticeship initiative the govt seems to be trying to address this.
    2. That being said there are also issues around how people find jobs as highlighted by the Nobel Prize winners 2010 ( – “frictions” in the mechanism.
    3. Finally the recruitment industry needs to become far more efficient at what it does and the primary model of small consultancies sourcing candidates in a global market needs to become more evolved.

    I’ll follow the debate with interest.

    • Neil · March 14, 2012

      I think the relationship between education and employment is one of the key factors. I don’t think the Apprentice initiative is necessarily the answer.

  2. joningham · February 23, 2012

    Ooh, I love biggies. Sorry I couldn’t be there to participate, but I’m in South Africa, where youth unemployment is over 50% so significantly worse than in the UK – despite a much more buoyant economy. I’ve not identified any solutions here unfortunately, other than perhaps it’s better to be located on the tip of Africa rather than the edge of Europe, but that probably isn’t very useful.

    Did you see my post on the Demos session we both attended Neil? . My take from this, supporting your points here, was that we need to be smarter about what we do. I particularly singled out the needs for better organisation design, and to move the focus from talent management building collaborative organisations.

    There’s clearly more that needs to be done, but I still think these would be two great places to start.

    • Neil · March 14, 2012

      Thanks for commenting Jon. Sounds like South Africa has a real problem too and I know it isn’t the only country. Suggests that it is a systemic failure and not just an economic one….

  3. Stephen O'Donnell (@stephenodonn) · February 24, 2012

    Not so very long ago, employers were the ones who delivered most of the practical training and education for the workforce. If they needed skilled engineers, they made them. Whether it was the shipyards, post office, BBC or ICI, those companies all agreed that they needed to invest in people, in order to achieve their business goals. It didn’t matter too much that other employers would tempt away staff that they had invested heavily, because they could still retain enough, or similarly recruit from other like-minded employers. The recruitment industry is a perfect example of this, where for decades, large agencies have trained many of the staff who go on to populate the smaller agencies, or even set up in competition with their alma mater!

    In the 1980’s and 90’s there were a series of industrial actions taken by teachers, which ultimately led to all uncontracted work being dropped. This meant that extra-curricular training of sports teams, chess clubs, and music groups ceased to exist. These were great for the children and the schools, and in the long-term had a positive effect on the kids. But this work wasn’t paid for, and didn’t seem to have an effect on the bottom line – exam results. Reaching that break-point was when many career pedagogists lost their faith in education.

    In industry, our employers have been battered by multiple and deep recessions in recent years, such that their ability to do extra for the broader good has been restricted. The trust in all other employers training workers too has gone, because there is no consensus any more. 20 firms will now pick off any staff trained by one responsible company. Why spend good money (and shareholder’s dividends) on training other employer’s staff?

    That consensus, which was so good for schools and employers alike, is very difficult to rebuild. Forcing employers to take responsibility is almost impossible, and offering incentives troublesome. I’m sure all manner of schemes have been suggested, but I believe PAYE breaks for employers who train and educate could be part of the solution, Combine this with contractual with commitment by trained staff not to leave for a given period.

    Restoring an atmosphere of trust is an enormously difficult thing to do, in any circumstances where it has broken down. Nevertheless, trust and consensus is what must be pursued.

    • Neil · March 14, 2012

      Great comment and I agree on trust and consensus, but I also think a little radical thinking needs to go into the mix.

  4. OHC Solutions (@ohcsolutions) · February 24, 2012

    Isn’t it just interesting how external pressures (recession..) usually kick businesses, professions, etc to look beyond “the box”? Absolutely agree with you that the employment market “is broken for all time” The sad thing is we all saw and watched the cracks get bigger and bigger. Am resisting the temptation to get drawn into the recruitment industry……. I need to focus on solution.

    Given that the recruitment industry and the HR profession can’t control or even deliver the future workforce without collaborating with other stakeholders, what is required is a framework or model that transcends the corporate world. The core element of such a framework should be Individuality and not structured or manufactured professionalism. As we all know “there is very little correlation between those who talk a good game and those who get things done”. “Individuality” should help develop an entrepreneurial spirit, which should offer businesses and the workforce the flexibility now required.

    Thanks for initiating the debate.

    • Neil · March 14, 2012

      And thanks for the great comment!

  5. Steven Savage · March 2, 2012

    Wish I could make it.

    The term I use for the hiring scene is “ossified” or “hollowed out.” It’s not alive, there’s no “there” there. There’s a lot of rituals, confusion, ill-thought out ideas, but nothing REAL.

    • Neil · March 14, 2012

      I agree…….and I don’t think it is able to improve.

  6. fernandomando · March 6, 2012

    I had a quick look for what might be meant by ‘bonded labour’ these days and I see that things haven’t changed:

    What is it that they say about the road to hell and good intentions?

    • Neil · March 14, 2012

      I’m not suggesting that, as I am sure you are aware.

  7. Simple HR · March 11, 2012

    Shame we’re not based in London, otherwise would have been there!

    So many different opinions swirling around in this debate. One that we’re dealing with increasingly is where ‘older workers’ fit into the UK’s employment scene.

    With an increasing move to digital technologies, employers and candidates alike seem to see digital marketing and social media as a young persons game…which is a shame given that this is one of the fastest growing industries and more and more older people want to continue working beyond retirement age.

    • Neil · March 14, 2012

      great point and perhaps the focus for a whole other blog post! I really worry about the demographic changes in society.

  8. Robert Feller · March 14, 2012

    Great article, it does seem that the future of workforce seems to be in a balance but I am highly interested in seeing how Thought Leadership will turn out. There are already several businesses embracing this such as Vodafone as seen here – This shows us that there is some substance behind this idea which I am interested to see what happens. I look forward to hearing more on this topic.


    • Neil · April 2, 2012

      Thanks for the comment Robbie and the interesting link.

  9. NoemiTatom · March 21, 2012

    Interesting post to read
    keep posting

  10. Pingback: The law of two feet | Floraworks

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