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A 4G future: Four generations in same workplace by 2030 and more women

By 2030 the number of over-65s still in work will rise by a third, study finds

Younger employees will mingle with colleagues old enough to be their great-grandparents. The boss is likely to be a woman, and a single career leading to a single pension will be a thing of the past.

These are among the findings of a Government-sponsored attempt to predict the future of work in Britain by 2030, which paints a picture of a technology-driven world where flexibility – and instability – reign supreme in areas from skills to contracts.

The study by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) suggests that computer algorithms are set to replace professionals in areas from accountancy to legal work while an ageing population will create four-generation or 4G offices where staff in their 70s and 80s work alongside those in their 20s. The number of economically active over-65s is expected to rise by a third by 2030.

This intermingling of generations could lead to new sources of social strife – with younger workers becoming trapped in low-level jobs as older staff remain longer in senior positions – or promote greater dynamism within companies, it is claimed.

Toby Peyton-Jones, the head of human resources at the engineering giant Siemens in Britain and one of the co-authors of the report, said: “If four-generation workplaces become commonplace, it will be first time in human history that this has happened. What are the implications of that? Will we see inter-generational stress and culture clashes or will this prove to be a positive tension that will drive innovation?”

After decades of struggling for equality in the workplace, women will finally take a more prominent role in the upper echelons of companies, accounting for two thirds of growth in highly-skilled jobs, according to the study.

But with greater diversity will come increased inequality and a jobs market where companies slim down their core of full-time employees and rely instead on a shifting pool of project workers. A highly skilled minority with strong creative, analytical or communication skills will be rewarded with larger incomes and better work-life balance. But the low-skilled will “bear the brunt of the drive for flexibility and cost reduction”, the report said.

A further real-terms reduction in household incomes is likely, and on current trends the proportion of the nation’s income held by the highest 0.1 per cent of earners will rise from 5 per cent to 14 per cent by 2030.

British workers will face ever-growing competition from abroad, in particular China and the Far East, but the importance of technology and the vast quantities of data it will produce will also allow a new generation of “micropreneurs” to flourish by creating products tailored to individuals’ needs.

The study identifies potential “disruptions” to the future economy, including “reverse migration” whereby population might be driven out of the UK by low growth rates.

It also suggests that future governments, saddled with the costs of funding increased bills for healthcare and pensions, as well as continued deficit reduction, will be less able to fund employment and education initiatives.