The death of the salesman

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WHITE, middle-class travelling salesmen are among those most at risk when it comes to millennial changes in working practices - along with postmen, middle-managers of all kinds, business administrators and government bureaucrats. Women workers, however, will get an increasingly better deal owing to more flexible working hours, greater equality of pay and a growth in "knowledge" work, requiring communication skills and empathy, as opposed to hierarchical structures.

These are just some of the predictions made by Roy Sheppard, a former BBC newsreader and author of a new book which claims to have identified a myriad potential 21st-century workplace trends - and gives tips on how to surf them with style.

Mr Sheppard, who spent five years in the 1980s reading the break- fast news, got a short, sharp shock when he was ditched by the BBC after reorganisation. Looking back, it was a blessing in disguise, he says.

"For the first time, I started to think more about my future and what I wanted to achieve." He claims that in three years he managed to increase his earnings by 300 per cent despite working shorter hours.

It was consultancy that proved to be his salvation: he is now a business speaker and corporate communications consultant, with clients such as Arthur Andersen, Hewlett Packard and the BBC World Service.

In his book, Your Personal Survival Guide to the 21st Century, he insists the key is to plan ahead, and adds: "It is difficult not to take redundancy personally." He recommends that "endangered species" - those working in "sunset" industries - should prepare themselves to jump into a better position before the next round of musical jobs leaves them without a desk.

Industries such as the postal service, he says, will become more vulnerable in a technology-driven society which relies on methods of communication such as e-mail; similarly, UK manufacturing jobs will be on the decline as the balance of productivity shifts to Asia. Health issues, technology and finance are all interlinked, he says. For men, this is generally bad news. "Uneducated men of all races will be the hardest hit. Mind and knowledge work will increase, and much of this will be done by women, who will be able to compete on an equal footing."

Companies, he claims, will be less able to afford the luxury of ignoring the contribution of their female employees. Women may at the moment deselect themselves from the best jobs, he claims, by aiming to satisfy all criteria specified in an advert, whereas men tend to apply if they meet just one condition. But he sees this dominance diminishing with a spread in freelance culture and an increasing number of entrepreneurs "growing their own" businesses.

Companies breeding intrapreneurs - such as Virgin, which encourages employees to come up with their own business initiatives - will fare best, along with businesses which tap into what Mr Sheppard calls the "new economy" growth fields: communications and telecommunications, computers and semi- conductors, health and medical care and instrumentation.

He stresses that, more than ever before, individuals must adopt a career strategy to stay ahead. "The temptation is to do something, anything, to hold on to the past. Many feel powerless and insecure about how to reposition themselves."

Finding a mentor, creating "learning time" and networking can be helpful first steps. For those looking to launch on their own, he advises: "Systematically acquire the skills you need until you are ready."

Those supplying knowledge will find themselves in demand in the next century, particularly if they possess parallel skills in communication, persuasion and empathy. "The suppliers of up-to-date knowledge represent the most secure workers."

'Your Personal Survival Guide to the 21st Century', by Roy Sheppard, is published by Centre Publishing at pounds 9.99. Look up the website at http://www.