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9 Key Changes To The Work Environment Over The Last 20 Years

You hear it again and again, but most workplaces have seen huge changes over the last 20 years. Pick an industry, any industry, and it’ll be a different world in 2013 than it was in 1993. When today’s 45 year-olds were starting out there was no Internet and a mobile was something you hung on the ceiling to keep a baby amused. Call centres were in their infancy, people wrote letters and if you worked somewhere you had to actually go there.

As we become increasingly globalised and even the brightest economies are reeling from the shock, it is worth making a note of some of these changes and keeping up with them to ensure that you stay ahead of the curve – or at least keep up with it!

1  The rise of temporary to permanent as a career path

As UK employers deal with changes to legislation that give the same employment rights to temporary staff who have been working for 12 weeks or more as permanent staff, it is less easy to find a permanent job in a new business. Instead of advertising to fill a full-time vacancy, employers are more likely to recruit from temporary staff they already know and trust.

2 Increased acceptance of internship

As a knock-on effect of the temp to perm issue, young people are turning to unpaid internships as a way to get in on the ground floor. As more are taking this route, many companies use this route to take advantage of this ‘free’ pool of workers. It is also more likely to be aimed at graduates: so on top of debts from university, students may have to factor in up to a year of unpaid work. However, LBScotland on said: “The paid internships we get have proven our best route for getting future employees. People who are sufficiently motivated to get an internship are often the best bet for us“.

3 Increased use of freelancers

As taking on full-time staff becomes seen as more of a risk, many businesses rely on a pool of freelancers to make up their team. Freelancers have typically come out of paid work where they learn their trade, then move on to become a ‘hired gun’. According to Elance: “42% of independent professionals surveyed plan to hire freelancers to help build their business in 2013“(, and as they can work remotely it is attractive to both parties. Businesses cut down on staff training and retention costs, and freelancers enjoy the flexibility.

4 Teleworking

The jury is still out on teleworking: Google’s CFO Patrick Pichette and Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer both strongly discourage it – according to Mayer “speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home” – but the amount of time spent commuting makes it an irresistible option for many workers.



5  Importance of Specialising

Combined with both the rise of the freelancer and the ability to work remotely, specialist contractors can generate a client base well away from their geographical location. This means that skills previously defined as too ‘niche’ to be able to justify a career are now viable – making less room for the generalist.

6 Reduced value of degrees over professional training

There has been an enormous emphasis on increasing take up of university education – not just in the UK, but around the world. But is the time and expense worth it? With youth unemployment rising, many opt for staying at university for as long as possible; young people are better off investing in online professional training while working in a part-time or temporary position. According to Mandy Brook MD of Recruitment South East  “95% of employers would favour a candidate with experience instead of qualifications“, and “the best candidates would have relevant experience AND a professional qualification“.

7 Importance of workers as a whole package

For those who want to work within an organisation, the importance of the whole package is huge: good spelling and grammar, effective social skills, their professional contacts (for example, the freelancers they have worked with), the voluntary work they have undertaken, and their presence in social media are just as important as work experience – and more important than qualifications.

8  Ageism

No longer does the world belong to the young: as statutory retirement age increases and with it the health and fitness of the older generation, business takes advantage of those with proven professional skills and commitment. Gone are the days of ageism – or maybe we still live in an ageist world, it’s just that the young are the ones now suffering discrimination.

9 Increased importance of HR Managers

With all these changes in the work environment, not to mention the changes still to come, it should come as no surprise that one of the most in-demand skills set is the Human Resources manager. A good HR manager should be able to tailor a business’s workforce so it makes the best use of temporary, freelance and permanent staff to both keep costs down and ensure skills are at their height. An excellent HR manager should also be an effective team manager, who knows how to incentivise people to get the best out of them and make them value their employer. And an exceptional HR manager should be able to do all of this while making the best use of today’s – and tomorrow’s – technology, judging themselves by the standards that they judge others.

In Conclusion …

There has never been a better time to enter the field of Human Resources as businesses rely increasingly on their human capital. And in the constantly changing business climate, wherever you see gaps in expertise you can top up without a costly university course that takes you away from your work environment. For the perfect mix of experience and qualifications, there has never been a better time to engage in online study – and keep ahead of the field.

Many thanks to Mandy Brook from Recruitment South East for her help in researching this article

  • Mawuko Dadah

    This is a very nice write up. I just completes my Level 4 Diploma in Project Management with Brighton School of Business and Management.. I plan to take the Extended Diploma in Strategic Management and Leadership, which would then give me entry into the MBA program with Cardiff Metropolitan University. After reading this piece, I am now thinking Maybe I should rather take the Level 5 Diploma in Human Resource Management,I do not have a Bachelors Degree, but I do have years of experience in Management. What will you advise?

  • Michèle Meagher

    Even though I am from the USA, what you say is true here as well. Many companies are foregoing hiring permanent staff in favor of temporary employees or contract workers. It is less expensive because benefits are not an expense (we do not have govt. provided health care here). Using interns gives access to an unpaid pool of talent. Good for the intern who gets to prove herself and then is ultimately hired (all the while not earning money to cover the cost of her education).

    It’s sad to say that here in the U.S., ageism is alive and well and thriving. Experience = bigger hit to the bottom line.

  • Debra Lloyd

    The key is finding the right balance between providing service, efficiency and value. Oddly, many on both sides forget those principles must be applied equally by both employer and employee to ensure mutual success.

    Anything less than ‘mutual success’ is worthless, as by it’s inequitable nature it’ll never be sustainable for either party.

    Skills and knowledge ensure you have value as a worker. Working as an intern or independent contractor/outsourced worker can be used as a vehicle to give you the experience needed to achieve a trifecta that proves irresistible to businesses.

  • Elizabeth Jamieson

    I used to work as a “hired gun” throughout the mid-eighties and nineties before it was the norm to do so. I learned then that to keep my job I all I had to do was deliver. Then when I went back into permanent work I took my contractor mentality with me. When working in investment banking this got me through a number of very difficult workplace situations where my ability to deliver meant I survived when others were unceremoniously sacked. A stint as a contractor, temp or intern in a demanding industry is probably good for a young person.

    • Elizabeth Jamieson

      I don’t know about now, but in commercial banking at that time there was no time at which you could. If you did, you were out.

  • Darren Moloney

    I definitely agree with number 5 too, I work remotely for many clients across the South West, all of them are at least 50 miles away

    Number 2 – oddly enough we have had 2 internship phone calls today, one from France and one from Germany… quite surprised we never get any enquiries for interns from within the UK…

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