Rethinking employment

Change and transformation surround the public and not-for-profit sectors. Scarcity of resources, technological developments, new customer expectations increasingly mean that the structures and the modes of delivery of the entities we know and (sometimes) love will in many cases be unrecognisable in just a few years.

I was at a fascinating presentation some time ago, from a futurologist speculating on the world of work over the next 20 years. He predicted one-third of current careers could disappear in that time. What might replace them? Among the most memorable suggestions: ‘Big data miner’, ‘Virtual lawyer’, ‘Social media counsellor’, ‘Body parts maker’.

It made me think about my career, which had not developed in a standard way, taking in: general management; procurement; IT; company secretarial; facilities management; community development; PR and communications; HR and recruitment; and indeed lorry driving, postman and building labourer. When I eventually fell into consultancy, I found that I had been building a portfolio career without realising it: invaluable preparation for a multidisciplinary consultancy offering! (Those old enough to recall Alan Bleasdale’s ‘Boys from the Black Stuff’ will remember Yosser Hughes: “I can do that – gis a job!”)

It made me reflect on my son and daughter, and how they have explored different sectors and different specialisms. It made me reflect on CT’s own recruitment in particular of researchers. Every time we have gone to the market, simply using a mix of websites, social media and networks, we have attracted large fields – typically 150+ applicants. It has always been frustrating usually to have only one job available: there are many more bright, able and highly appointable candidates than we can accommodate. An enormous waste of talent is being frittered away in bar jobs and unpaid internships.

As our organisations change and refocus, to the point where it becomes harder to predict their shape and style of service more than a few years ahead, how should we recruit the people we need? The trick is not just to focus on present needs but to look ahead to futures when quite different jobs may be required.

My prescription? We should aim to recruit people who:

  • Are flexible and adaptable
  • Are digitally savvy
  • Are innovative and not scared of change
  • Bring commercial grasp and focus
  • Bring mixes of skills and experience
  • Are good with people, and can engage customers, colleagues, partners
  • Are effective communicators using different media

Once we get them, how can we retain their interest, their focus and energy? We should promote staff flexibility, and encourage responsiveness and initiative. We need proactive training and development programmes, which highlight interpersonal skills, relationship management, technological grasp, and support ‘the inquiring mind’.

Good terms and conditions help encourage staff commitment and retention. This should include support for different working styles. ‘Growing your own’ is a strong principle, with entry-level options such as apprenticeships and paid internships, and jobs designated as ‘career grade’ roles. Effective recruitment is also about building a diverse workforce, not just ‘bright young things’: people who have operated in different environments and faced different challenges can bring breadth and resilience.

Linking the individual to the business is critical: each staff member must understand how they contribute to the collective whole. Where possible, new starters should be given a taste of each main business stream, for instance through job shadowing, ‘work tasters’ and secondments. Communication must be upwards, downwards, horizontal; consultation should be genuine, and people should be given straight answers about the direction of the business.

Plainly the above will present challenges for some. But let’s be honest: if we are serious about developing the workforce we need to cope in changing, challenging and uncertain environments, this ain’t nanotechnology.

Greg Campbell is a Partner at Campbell Tickell. For more information or to discuss this article, please contact