Press release

Four-generation workplaces on the rise as report reveals the future of work

A ground-breaking report on the future of work has highlighted the dramatic changes UK workers can expect to see in the next 2 decades.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Four generation workplace

Some of your colleagues are old enough to be your great-grandparents, your office is entirely online and your competitors are algorithms. Welcome to the future of work in the UK.

The Future of Work, published by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), analyses the trends and disruptions shaping the UK’s labour market. It finds that multi-generational working – so called four-generation or ‘4G’ workplaces – will become increasingly common as people delay retiring until their 70s or even 80s.

It also predicts that the role of women in the workplace will strengthen, and that an increasing divide between those at the top and bottom of the career ladder will mean that whilst highly-skilled, highly-paid professionals will push for a better work-life balance, other people will experience increasing job and income insecurity.

Technology will continue to evolve, pervading work environments everywhere, with many routine tasks becoming the domain of the smart algorithm. Multi media ‘virtual’ work presences will become the norm. As businesses seek additional flexibility, they will decrease the size of their core workforces, instead relying on networks of project-based workers.

Whilst the report makes grim reading for some, there is also good news. The demand for increasingly personalised and bespoke goods and services will lead to a boom in ‘micropreneurism’, helped by new ICT developments which provide greater access to markets, innovation and cost savings. Large firms will open up their business models, focussing more on the skills and knowledge they can connect to than the skills and knowledge they own. Large companies will increasingly run open R&D programmes, giving individuals and small businesses the opportunity to innovate.

As well as outlining the way employment might develop over the next 2 decades, the report also projects 4 possible scenarios for the UK’s economy, and the potential impact on work. These are:

  • forced flexibility (business as usual): greater business flexibility and innovation in many UK sectors lead to a modest recovery of the UK’s economy, while a sharp rise in flexible working changes the way many do their daily duties.
  • the great divide: robust growth occurs, driven by strong high-tech industries – particularly in life and material science industries, but a two-tier society has arisen, with a divide between the haves and have nots.
  • skills activism: innovation in technology drives the automation of professional work, prompting an extensive government-led skills programme to re-train those whose jobs are at risk.
  • innovation adaptation: In a stagnant economy, productivity is improved through a systematic implementation of ICT solutions.

Toby Peyton-Jones, Director of HR for Siemens in the UK and North-West Europe, and a Commissioner at UKCES, said:

Gazing into the future is a dangerous job. If some of predictions of the past had been true, we’d be living in a world with no internet, driving hover-cars and enjoying huge amounts of leisure time.

Appealing though that scenario may be, we’d be remiss if we didn’t look at the changes shaping our world at the moment and speculate about how these might influence our future. Some things are unstoppable forces – the rise of technology, for example. Other influences are subtle and fragile, yet potentially even more significant. I’d count things like the attitudes and culture of people born in the digital generation amongst these.

This is one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind and gives us an informed opinion of the way we might all live and work in the future. For example, if four-generation workplaces become commonplace, it will be the 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 is part of a wider diversity trend that will drive innovation?

The report comes as the role of apprenticeships in ensuring jobs and growth is highlighted in National Apprenticeship Week. Alongside the main report, there is also an online quiz, which helps to give people an idea of the jobs that might be available in 2030.

The report, The Future of Work, will be launched by the skills minister Matthew Hancock and the shadow skills minister Liam Byrne at an event on Monday 3 March organised by The Work Foundation.

The Future of Work was commissioned by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and carried out by Z_Punkt The Foresight Company in conjunction with the Centre for Research in Futures and Innovation at the University of South Wales.

Further information from Alex Curling, Head of Press: 01709 774890 / 07748 090500

General press office: 01709 774800

Published 3 March 2014