Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The future of work ... and careers advice

Interesting article in People Management about Lynda Gratton's forthcoming book "The Shift- The future of work is already here"

Lynda identifies five forces that will share the way we work in the decade ahead: Technology, Globalisation, Demographic trends, The need for a low carbon economy, and Societal Change.

Rapid and continuous technology advances will bring us ever more powerful applications in handheld devices. 5 billion more people around the world will get connected to the internet - bringing new voices, ideas and connections. The growing development of "The Cloud" will allow applications to run within a global infrastructure rather than having to be installed locally on our desktop computer or internal company networks.

Lynda sees the emergence of global mega-companies at one end, and of millions of "micro-entrepreneurs" at the other. The goods and services created by workers in China and India will move up the value chain, increasing the global aspirations of the companies providing them.

There is also a shift in education, with emerging talent pools in India and China, boosted by strong emphasis on study of science and technology subjects, considered harder or boring by western students.

New ways of working could leave people isolated, working with only virtual connection to colleagues. But the networked nature of society could also allow people to reach out, connect and create new opportunities, developing as micro-entrepreneurs.

Lynda suggests there will be a shift from worker's being "shallow generalists" to being "serial masters" with deep levels of skill and competence. The shallow level of knowing a little about a lot is no longer the route to opportunity creation. Anyone with access to the internet and wikipedia can gain a shallow insight into a topic. The "serial" aspect reflects the likelihood many of us will face longer working lives, and need to re-skill to master new areas of expertise.

Rather than working in competitive isolation, the future way to flourish will be to be an "innovative connector", sharing ideas and gaining inspiration from: your "posse" - trusted connections; a "big ideas crowd" being your extended network (friends of friends); and your own personal "regenerative community" - your closest friends and family.

So if the world of work is changing does this impact careers work?

The model of advice delivery which has flourished under Connexions has emphasised the generalist approach. Former specialist careers advisers became generalists, advising teenagers on the widest range of personal support topics. What's now needed in an internet savvy, connected world is the ability for young people to connect easily with the expert. Not just connection with an experienced generalist careers adviser, but instead to an adviser with a deep level of knowledge of the specific industry, occupation or company a learner aspires to join.

The questions, issues and challenges a client may face are likely to require multiple experts with different specialisms over time. The adviser who helps you choose your GCSE subjects at age 13, or understand the intricacies of veterinary medicine, may not be the adviser who helps you apply for a voluntary opportunity or internship.

The challenge for careers advice services is getting past the idea that generalists with access to a knowledge base can meet most advice needs, or that the client should only work with one named adviser (usually allocated by the provider for the provider's convenience). The technology to enable client driven selection of advisers surely exists - sites like Horsesmouth already demonstrate this - young people can scan through thousands of mentors to find specific attributes or expertise that match their current requirements.

For some clients of course facilitation and support are needed to select an adviser. For many clients the advice given by a generalist would still be helpful. But if careers providers are to be at their most effective, they need to embrace the notion of specialism and expert advice in order to meet the needs of clients and the expectations of those (e.g. schools and parents) who will be paying for impartial advice and guidance in the future.

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