CBI chief warns workers to adapt

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The Independent Online
The tradition of ``jobs for life'' is becoming a thing of the past for British workers, Howard Davies, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, warned last night.

Speaking in Exeter, Devon, on the future of work in Britain, he said workers had to adopt more flexible working practices and conditions, increase skill levels and rely less on state provision.

"The future of the labour market is not going to be like the past. All the statistics show that working practices have been changing in a consistent direction over the last decade or so.

"Womb to tomb employment - a lifetime spent with one employer - is becoming the exception rather than the rule," Mr Davies said.

With increased numbers of part-time and self-employed workers, under two-thirds of Britain's workforce were full-time employees, he said.

But increased flexibility in the labour market would mean that more people would be unemployed or in need of other benefit at some time in their lives, he predicted. "It just won't be possible for all these job changes to happen as smoothly as we might like," he said.

Warning that they should not rely on the state for that support, he said: "More and more individuals will be expected to make provision for their own lives, including allowing for periods of unemployment, and especially retirement."

Job flexibility would require an urgent improvement in skills levels, Mr Davies said, adding that both skilled and manual workers would be affected by the "globalisation" of labour markets.

"It is more than just manual low skilled jobs in the West that are now open to serious competition - traditional white collar areas are in danger too," he said.

European pay levels, which were 40 times higher than in China, were unlikely to be sustained. "Increasingly, those with skills that once seemed secure from Third World competition will have to lower their expectations to compete," he said.

Despite the "doom laden" warnings, he was not entirely pessimistic about the future because Britain had largely accepted the need to restructure to meet new competition.