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Trends: A workforce of drifters?

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Michael Graham, managing director of Pitman Training, explores changing attitudes toward the workplace.


The annual workplace survey conducted by Pitman Training has unearthed a clear trend towards "job drifting" similar to our larger cousin the USA. Whilst the geographic nature of the USA tends to dictate some of the drifting activity within the workforce our relatively small nation has until now avoided such a phenomenon.

Early in 2000 we saw a clear trend to increased job movement; this was consistent with known trends in the marketplace such as, increased opportunities, stable economy and rising spending patterns. Pitman Training identified a growth in returnees to work who were prepared to train to achieve satisfying job roles (and of course better pay). Added to this there was a small but constant demand for training from the employed who wanted better business skills and competencies. At the time we associated this with the desire for promotion and increased earnings

However our most recent research indicates a dramatic rise in social fluidity, with clear signs of drifting across geographic areas and more unusually across specific job and skill sectors. The "job for life" was dead over a decade ago but we are now seeing the distinct possibility that the career progression ladder needs to be redefined as well. It seems clear that our modern workforce view a career to be in their control rather than the company they work for or "spend time with."

The core reasons behind this change seem to be fuelled by some very basic changes in the needs of the individual. The 80’s/90’s allowed many to achieve stability, solidifying their basic wants and desires through home ownership and increased work opportunity. The boom in house prices though has fuelled a change and as we move through the decade more young people perceive home ownership to be an ever decreasing possibility. Indeed many are now rapidly changing their priorities.

The fact is that many now think "short term" "self focused" and "non permanent". Increasingly many are concentrating on their immediate lifestyle, recreation and material possession rather than how to save and where to set down roots. Whilst work has traditionally been a means to an end, that end has clearly changed.

Pitman Training has witnessed this in the willingness of people to learn skills totally unrelated to their current roles or experience. They fancy a change and set out to get the skills needed to achieve the goal.

This means a dramatic shift in human resource and managerial responsibility where the need is rapidly becoming appeasement or maximisation. Today’s reality is that a well deserved reprimand provided in a stern manner will see the recipient scanning Monster jobs.com and interviewing quicker than Kelly Holmes winning gold, with a slick track and following wind. The costs associated with replacement, time lost and sheer inconvenience is increasing and as such many are recognising that maybe they need to invest in their resource to ensure they stay with them.

The research has shown that over 65% of this year’s entrants to the job market will have enjoyed between 4-6 jobs by their 20th birthday. Those that are leaving college and university may be older but the number of jobs over the first four years of their working life seems to be the same. Females aged 21-40 are traditionally the most flexible grouping but the gap with their male counterparts is closing rapidly. It seems that the workforce no longer needs a reason like childbirth to alter its career pattern it is now quite prepared to change at any stage of its life cycle provided it fulfils its most immediate needs and wants. The availability of credit, increased consumerism, the housing market have all contributed and business needs to consider how it is going to deal with our new nation of drifters.


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Annie Hayes

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