Work? Well if you insist …

A couple of interesting reports caught the eye this week on the future of work and employment.

The first from the New Economics Foundation suggested that the working week should be cut to 21 hours , saying that this would help boost the economy and improve quality of life by easing unemployment and overwork. They admitted that people would earn less, but said that they would have more time to carry out worthy tasks.

I am sure most entrepreneurs when they heard about the former, initially though “21 hour days – that seems about right” but no, the authors really were suggesting that 21 hour weeks should become the norm, with a few additional hours no doubt to carry out some worthy tasks.

The second by Friends Provident suggested that by 2020 we would have an elite group of knowledge workers who, due to the their scarcity, would be able to demand higher salaries, better benefits and a greater degree of professional fulfilment. However, we would also have a growing underclass who would face poor prospects and limited expectations, which could leave UK plc facing a serious skills shortage.

Clearly working life is changing for many of us, and it is interesting to note that more and more young people are looking to control their own destinies, and expressing a desire to set up their own businesses. However the skills question keeps cropping up, and I suspect that personal development will need to remain a priority however many hours we work a week.

Given the above two reports, it is interesting that much of the comment surrounding the unemployment statistics for January focussed on the issue of underemployment, and how measures such as part time working had effectively kept the headline numbers down. Underemployment is one of the big issues of this recession, and many of the statistics quoted do not include those people who are setting up their own business or working as freelancers. Many of these people are working very hard to establish and market their business, but are underemployed in terms of actually earning real money.

All this reflects the changing nature of work and employment over the last decade, and many of the trends, such as flexible working and people starting their own businesses, will be accelerated by the current economic downturn.

Very exciting stuff of course, but what this move away from traditional employment will mean for the future tax take and our yawning public sector funding deficit is another issue, and no doubt the subject of another blog.

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