Splitting humans from resources

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HUMAN resources specialists have been pushing the notion of people being not just an organisation's "most important asset" but its "competitive advantage" for so long now that it has become an accepted truism.

But now the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales has recognised the existence of a "premium on people". Responding to a MORI poll, the institute's members in business predicted that the next decade would see British businesses emphasising employee rewards,benefits and training as well as an increase in expertise and qualifications and a lowering of the retirement age.

Nevertheless, they warn that employees should not expect what seems to be a "caring/sharing" ethos to pervade the whole workplace. Instead, they seeBritain following the US practice of the three-tier workforce.

David Sheridan, spokesman for the Board of Chartered Accountants in Business, said: "The workplace of the future will see employees being divided by different classifications, each receiving different treatment and levels of job security.

"Many large American companies now define three categories of worker - management, key workers and "just in timers". This practice, which is already becoming evident in the UK in sectors such as healthcare and education, reflects growing emphasis on hiring the right skills at the right time."

While managers and key workers should benefit from the growing emphasis on enhanced working conditions and career development, those in the "just in time" category should expect to be hired on a contract basis and should therefore become "considerably more self-sufficient and flexible to the extent of being able to "re-invent" themselves periodically, he said."In the future, the emphasis will be predominantly on 'human' in the first tier and 'resources' in the second."

The survey also forecasts a continuation of the growth in outsourcing and of the trend for people to be hired younger and promoted earlier than in the past. Moreover, it predicts working hours will increase - a finding that contradicts both the recently introduced European Working Time Directive and to the supposed "sharing/caring" ethos.

A key challenge in the future will be achieving the right balance, first, between a core work-force and just in timers and, second, between older workers who can contribute experience and stability and younger people who can bring energy and enthusiasm to work.