The future of work debate divides HR opinion

Future of work –  is HR equipped to deal with it?

There are two concepts guaranteed to divide HR opinion around the future of work.  They are:

  • the sharing or collaborative economy
  • portfolio careers

In theory they are both fine and dandy. The reality is something different.

The sharing economy

Listed in WIRED as one of the main topics we must stop talking about in 2016, the discussion on the sharing economy will continue unabated for sure. For some this development is seen as a marvellous antidote to abusive corporate exploitation, where individuals can take charge of their own careers and work schedules. CIPD in a survey of 1000, suggests that individuals working on zero hour contracts are at least as happy as full-time employees and that they “experience greater life satisfaction, are more satisfied with their jobs and enjoy better work-life balance than those on more traditional employment contracts”

Employers can benefit from an immediately available, agile workforce, thus relieving the organisation from the need to do most forms of planning.

WIRED calls this situation “on-demand services ”  Because “They offer a new approach to meeting customer and worker demand without the pretence that we’re engaging in anything other than capitalism.”

Most people I have discussed this with are anything but content. Read: Dickensian: Zero Hour Contracts  Perhaps I should put them in touch with CIPD. They complain of continued exploitation, uncertainty regarding hours worked which leads to irregular revenue, impacting long-term security and  financial planning.  They are fast becoming a way for organisations to circumvent statutory employer obligations. Although officially associated mainly with unskilled labour, anecdotal evidence would suggest that this is no longer the case.

This brings us neatly to topic #2.

Do HR practitioners know how to identify the best talent from a portfolio career talent pool with their linear career recruitment approaches?

Portfolio careers

Herminia Ibarra in an article for the FT ponders the question whether portfolio careers are  normally for the older employee. “In the world of linear progression — learn, earn, return — the appropriate stage for portfolios is late life.” At one time, this might have been the case, with older workers going down this path as part of a pre-retirement transition strategy. A bit of consulting and a few non-exec Director roles are always great to keep the mind active and revenue stream flowing.

Today, portfolio careers in my experience, are no longer the exclusive domain of the older employee. Post 2007, with the increase in unemployment and reduction in entry-level jobs a rising number of younger employees are being forced into portfolio careers, rather than choosing them. This is what causes many to seek additional academic qualifications, thinking/hoping that they will gain the skills and gravitas needed to impress corporate recruiters.

The challenge they have, is that hiring managers still have a linear career progression mind-set and are locked into job titles and traditional career paths. Hiring for attitude rather than aptitude, is something you are more likely to find bandied around on Twitter than in the workplace. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg et al, are hailed as system disrupters, but their ideas are taking a while to filter out of Silicon Valley into mainstream recruitment thinking. Most companies look for “plug and play” hard skills and they associate portfolio careers with uncertainty and restlessness. This fills them with horror. HR does not do horror.

However, frequently, deep experience is accompanied by rigidity and resistance to change. It is probably easier to train new talent, than re-educate existing staff to unlearn a lifetime’s worth of experience and deconstruct their unconscious biases.

The real challenge is when those requiring that re-education are responsible for hiring decisions and policy. As Ibarra says what we need now is to learn “what it takes to thrive in a portfolio career, rather than simply touting its virtues with a few anecdotes.”

Although claiming that the collaborative economy and therefore portfolio careers suit the new lean and agile organisations, I’m not convinced that hiring decision makers know what they should be looking for in the portfolio career talent pool to make successful hires.

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