Careers: Adapt and survive

Perhaps the most obvious difference between the current generation of graduates and their predecessors is that - whatever job they go into - they are likely to have to grapple with new technology.

For many, of course, that will not be a problem. Students are well to the fore among Internet users and many university courses have sprung up to cater for the booming information technology industry. However, others might be less confident in the use of computers and associated technology.

And for them the finding in new research that UK office staff spend nearly half their working days - a much greater proportion than even four years ago - using computers could be somewhat offputting.

The report from the London School of Economics finds that US workers spend even more of their time in front of their screens - 67 per cent of the day, compared with 48 per cent in Britain. Moreover, the way in which business operates and works with customers and suppliers is being dramatically changed by the finding that 57 per cent of external communication now relies on information technology, an increase of 21 per cent on 1993.

It argues that the automation of offices and administration procedures that has become predominant since 1993 means more than staff simply spending most of their time with computers. Technology is also transforming office culture and supporting the growth of "new-style" companies.

However, while businesses are becoming increasingly enthusiastic about investing in various aspects of IT, many are not seeing the full benefits because their staff - graduates and others - are not well enough trained. The Internet Training Centre, just being launched in Mayfair, London, aims to help rectify that by concentrating on providing business people with skills to make the most of the Internet.

And if any graduate does not see the need for training in that and other areas, they should listen to Kit Grindley, Price Waterhouse professor of systems automation at the LSE and organiser of the computing strategy census sponsored by the business consultancy Compass. "In the short space of three years, traditional secretaries, with a monopoly control of communication channels, are giving way to groupware systems of direct communication between decision makers, work teams and information sources," he said. "And office supervisors are being replaced by screen-based progress trackers."

The report points out that utilities are joining the finance and retail/distribution sectors as the leaders in the adoption of automated systems, and adds that IT is having a great influence on the closer ties developing between companies, suppliers and customers - and therefore helping the development of the increasing popular concept of "partnerships and alliances".