The changing world of work

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Written by Barry Johnson on 10 September 2018

We know the Fourth Industrial Revolution is rolling forward. We also know that many industries in the UK are not advancing into this changing situation fast enough. Many believe it is just a technology advance, others think it is a threat to jobs, and one of the main issues is that we have no idea how it will influence different industries.

Some traditional industrial leaders don’t like revolutions, so they avoid them. Let me float some simple ideas; you can then consider them for your industry.

Within the technological environment we have seen the rise of the Internet, the advance of production processes, the growth of artificial intelligence and on these things, we have seen the actions and fears of economic factors such as employment, education, and skills requirement.

These are directly affecting earnings, reducing costs of production and products and from these are creating inter-organisation and international competition. This, in turn, is having an impact on exchange rates and inflation rates.

Some traditional industrial leaders don’t like revolutions, so they avoid them.

Governments are considering international law, industrial legislation such as corporate law and employment law. These are advancing into social policies, democratic trends, mobility, and attitudes to employment.

Advancing change in countries such as China is having profound effects on their organisations. This will perhaps be the clearest change in decision making, hierarchy and management practices. Slow but it is coming here.

The change and you

How are these changing elements likely to affect learning and development? You will be affected by the broader changes. Work organisation, skill requirements and knowledge advancement are perhaps the most visible elements.

These will be related to the environmental forces, the changing pattern of work and work design, the broader factors in organisational practice, attitudes to work and employment relations. Yes, there will be conflicts.


With the changes will come shifts in management skills and practices, leadership, teamwork, the levels of decision making and structural shifts in work organisation. There will be a change in the psychological contract, the expectations between the employees and the employers and the contribution of each to the positive changing relationship.

A key will be flexibility

The organisation will change to respond to environmental and business pressures by adapting the size, composition, costs, skills, knowledge, and responsiveness of its human resources. It will be organised differently, with different goals, different values and diverse leadership and management.

You now know your organisations' work patterns, you will have lived through earlier changes. You know how to cope with and lead change.

This is a revolution

Yes, it will be a harsh environment, skill and knowledge shortages, technology shifts, legal changes, economic changes, shifts in competition all creating pressure.

Revolutions involve learning and facilitation. Learning facilitation is your expertise. The purpose and requirements of the learning sit within your ability. As was said to me when I was the Director of the European Learning Institute of an international corporation during a massive change – 'You gotta, lotta, learning to do.' It was a trade union official that said it.

94,000 other employees and I were made redundant.


About the author

Barry Johnson BA, CMCIPD, MCMI, is a non-executive director at Learning Partners Ltd



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