Changing Britain: Workforce Evolution
It’s Diamond Jubilee year and to honour the occasion (sort of) the CIPD have compiled a report entitled Britain at Work in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth II which charts the changes wrought on the workforce by the digital revolution, globalisation, European legislation, the demise of industry and… wait for it… the rise of human resources.
So with no doubt mixed feelings of rueful nostalgia and glad relief, we look back on a sample of highlights and headlines from 60 years of Britain’s evolving workplace.
The UK population is now 20% larger than in 1952 – up from 50 million to 62.3 million in 2010 – but the size of the workforce (those either in jobs or actively looking for work) has grown by almost 50% from 23 million to nearly 32 million. Even after the latest recession there are currently around 29 million people in employment, 6 million more than in the late 1950s.
A large factor in the increased proportion of the population working is the influx of women into the workplace – now 46% of the workforce, compared with just 30% in 1952. Also, when the Queen came to the throne, one in three in the workforce was aged under 25; today, the figure is one in seven. And as for racial and cultural diversity, the UK workforce now includes more than 7 million people (12% of the population) born abroad. In 1952, by contrast, large-scale immigration was only just beginning.
The Working Week
In the 1950s only 96% of people worked full-time and that full-time week was around 48 hours for manual jobs, or 40 hours for non-manual. Now 8% of employees work 15 or fewer hours a week, and only 17% work more than 45 hours.
Although the first two decades of the reign are regarded as fairly ‘golden’, since then traditional heavy industries have lost out to lower-cost overseas competitors and the manufacturing sector as a whole has had to compete on cost and quality, using more advanced technology and improved methods of working. Along the way, manufacturing jobs have fallen from 8.7 million in 1952 to 2.5 million at present. The consequent reduction in skilled manual jobs has created a general shift from a blue-collar to a white-collar workforce with a resulting decline in trade union membership and a rise in what is now called human resource management.
Flexible and Agile Working
In the emerging ultra-competitive and ever more global economy, the need for employment flexibility has become a prerequisite for success; or at least it is perceived as such. In 2012, one in five full-time workers (and one in four part-timers) have some kind of flexible working pattern. There is no real 1950s equivalent, but the CIPD does note a comparison with the 12% of employees who at that time worked a shift system of some kind.
In 1952 there were very few long-term unemployed and only one in ten registered unemployed had been out of work for more than a year. Today, one in six people are on Jobseeker’s Allowance. And let’s not forget the endless changes over the years to the method of calculating unemployment figures; the true comparison would probably be much more startling. In 1952 there were three job vacancies for every person registered as unemployed, today there are three people on Jobseeker’s Allowance for every vacancy.
The last twenty years have seen a flood of IT into the workplace which has created opportunities for greater employee autonomy, easy remote and home working, but also pressure for instant response . There’s also the information overload and the sophisticated monitoring and surveillance of employees, blurring the boundaries between work and non-work time. More than half of UK employees are now subject to computer surveillance at work, a significant stress factor.
So, what to make of all this change. Was it inevitable? Was it all for the good? This is one arena in which personal opinions will almost certainly (and dramatically) differ. What can be said is that this is the situation we have inherited (and created). We might wish some aspects were different (or not) but this is the reality in which people work, in which businesses thrive or wither, and in which we wonder if we will ever catch up with the advancing age of retirement.
Food for thought, perhaps.
(As for the rise of HR… in 1952, there were approximately 20,000 people employed in personnel roles in UK organisations. Today the figure is more like 400,000 – one has to wonder if any other job category has increased by a factor of twenty over the last 60 years?)