Face of workforce set to change

by 23 Jan 2007

IN THE face of a number of converging critical issues for Australian businesses, the need for workplace change will present women with opportunities to redefine their career lives.

Speaking at a recent Workplace Training Advisory Australia breakfast on the future of work, organisational demographics and intergenerational differences in a candidate-short market, organisational psychologist and consultant Simon Brown-Greaves said it was essential for employers to ascertain what parts of the labour market were currently underutilised, including women.

“It might be that the leadership roles for women that are emerging may be in the people side of business because that is where the struggle is. I think we’re going to see a trend towards HR as absolutely as critical as your CEO or COO,” he said.

Furthermore, he said women won’t need to adopt the masculine styles of management that dominated workplaces in the past because the nature of work will be significantly different in the future.

“As soon as we can work out how this needs to be done differently then there’s a whole opportunity for leadership to be done in a different way.”

The concepts of virtual working, telecommuting and part-time contractual work will also become increasingly important, Brown-Greaves said.

“The issue of attracting and retaining people is no longer just a city-by-city, region-by-region exercise. It’s global.” This trend was already well established across Western Europe, Japan and North America, with similar demographic change now happening in Australia, he said.

Due to the global nature of skills shortages, other countries could poach workers from Australia. “The ones that are getting our labour at the moment are mainly in the Middle East, in terms of engineering, technical and trades skills,” he said.

The exponential growth of the brain power economy within Australia will also become increasingly important, which will impact business in a number of ways.

“The growth in people working in jobs, roles and situations that are fundamentally about using their brains creates all sorts of career choices, and one would hope has interesting implications for gender balance in workforces and in particular how employees eventuate to leaders and managers in that environment,” said Brown-Greaves.

If employers fail to consider the social dynamics at play and how they will impact work, there is a danger that companies could miss the boat, he said.

For example, companies have begun to question the practical future of office blocks, as they may not fit the needs of a future workforce. Companies seeking to attract women by providing a childcare centre at work may find themselves behind the times, he said, as women may not be working in offices 10 years down the track, but working from home in the suburbs.

“There’s some really interesting questions, and the social planners and demographers are thinking about these things right now because the evidence is, if we don’t, they will lose talent and the bottom line,” he said.

“The ability to actually attract and retain people in organisations is more difficult now than it ever has been in Australia’s history.”

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