Is permanent employment a thing of the past?

Every year there are fewer people willing to be permanent employees

The labour market is changing — and it’s going to change a lot more.

Australian employees must adapt to new ways of working and forego their attachment to permanent employment to ensure they’ll have a job in 20 years’ time, according to a well-known futurist.

According to Kevin Wheeler, founder and director of the Future of Talent Institute, a US-based consortium, Australia’s contingent workforce is alive and well.

“The writing’s on the wall. Australian employers, like many other Western nations, are reducing their reliance on permanent workers,” said Wheeler. “This doesn’t mean they aren’t employing; it just means people are being employed in different ways. For instance, more firms are developing a workforce composed of larger numbers of contractors, temporary workers, and consultants.

“The shift towards contingent work is still a taboo topic in Australia, but this is a real issue, and we can no longer turn a blind eye to what’s happening around us.

“Individuals will need to get more comfortable with being independent and get better at selling themselves and showing where they can add value, even if it means working flexibly in the future. It may require a change in mindset for those who’ve only known permanent work, but it’s a tremendous opportunity to assess your skills, set yourself up and do something you’ve perhaps always wanted to do.”

According to the Adecco Temporary Labour Report 2012, the Australian contingent workforce is set to increase by 2.4 per cent in 2012, outpacing the 1.3 per cent expected growth for total employment.

"The shift towards contingent work is still a taboo topic but we can no longer turn a blind eye to what’s happening." – Kevin Wheeler, Future of Talent Institute

“This is being driven by three key factors: the changing nature of work, where the kind of work being done today requires fewer people and more complex skills; automation, such as investment in robotic equipment, which is reducing the need for blue collar workers in some industries such as mining; and the economy, where smaller margins are making it harder for organisations to keep people on payroll,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler believes that by mixing contingent and permanent employees, an organisation can reduce costs quickly during down markets, rapidly increase staff when market demand grows and fill knowledge gaps with experts quickly and easily.

“But the shift is happening at both ends of the spectrum – every year there are less and less people who are willing to be permanent employees and who want more flexible ways of working to suit lifestyle changes,” he noted.

“Organisations that are used to being in control of ‘their people’ will need to get more creative with how they offer employment. Those that thrive in this market will be those who can accommodate people working much more flexibly and understand that in the future their workforce will be made up of lots of people working for themselves.”

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