`Jobs upheaval ahead' when knowledge workers take over

Financial institutions face a massive shift in employment over the next two years with 125,000 managers and clerical workers expected to lose their jobs, with the City of London the main beneficiary of a 113,000 increase in jobs for "knowledge workers".

A new report backed by the large financial institutions predicts that while backroom staff are highly vulnerable to cut-backs, there will be fresh opportunities for treasury, investment and information technology specialists.

Professor Amin Rajan, author of the study, Tomorrow's People, argues that to survive in an era of relentless competition, employees will be expected to think and behave as if they were self-employed. Staff will have to treat employers as a "customer" for their services, he believes.

Based on his investigation of trends in 350 organisations, Professor Rajan says the new jobs will go to those with higher education, "networking" skills, entrepreneurial flair and fee-earning capacity. The losers will be those in routine back office jobs, especially those who do not have skills to enable redeployment within the firm. This is likely to mean nearly a third of the workforce in banks, building societies and insurance companies all over Britain being made redundant.

They may not be able to relocate to out-of-town "call centres" which are increasingly drawing work away from back offices in urban areas.

For such people, employers have not delivered the quid pro quo of flexible working - training in transferable skills so that staff are employable elsewhere.

Professor Rajan, however, believes that many employees lack the necessary foundation on which to base further training. "They are the victims of an education system which puts undue emphasis on knowledge and understanding, to the detriment of personal attributes such as resilience, initiative and judgement.

"Those who have these attributes are thriving as evidenced by ever-widening differentials. Those who don't, fall by the wayside. This is the Achilles' heel of the new flexibility," says Professor Rajan, visiting professor at City Univer- sity Business School.

The report, published by the London Human Resource Group and Focus Central London, a training and enterprise council, forecasts worsening shortages of knowledge workers, especially in the City where firms prefer to hire those who have already been trained.

The 95-page document argues that organisations in the sector are going through a period of "lean production" in which management has been de- layered and where the degree of labour flexibility is at a "medium" level.

After the turn of the century it contends there will be a period of "agile production" in which companies form alliances with suppliers and where labour flexibility will be high. It will be an era of "virtual" companies in which organisations will be stripped to the bone. Apart from their "core competences", other services will be bought in.

Professor Rajan doubts whether organisations have prepared employees for lean production. The new method needs to be communicated and justified.

"It has created a climate of fear in which enterprise and initiative are held back. Risk-aversion is rife."

He says the "promise of employability" needs to be delivered and the national education and training systems re-oriented to develop entrepreneurial skills. There should also be a publicly provided career counselling system for adults.

"In some, creating a new mode of production is one thing. Achieving staff effectiveness in it is quite another. Their hopes, fears and aspirations need to be taken into account. Too much is expected of them by the unforgiving marketplace."

`Tomorrow's People', published by Create, 2 Holly Hill, Vauxhall Lane, Southborough, Tunbridge Wells, TN4 0XD