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Warning on workplace challenges.

Byline: By DAVID WILLIAMSON Western Mail

The challenges of the workplace of the future need to be confronted now, a leading academic warned yesterday. Duncan Lewis, who has been appointed a professor of workplace futures at the University of Glamorgan by the conciliation service Acas, said the working world would soon be characterised by flexibility and uncertainty.

For much of the 20th century, it was expected that the age we are about to enter would be defined by increased affluence and leisure time; now such rosy assessments of what lies ahead are rare.

Prof Lewis said, 'Lots of writers in the past talked about this situation where people would be retiring early. The reverse has come true.

'People are going to have to work harder and longer.'

The concept of a job for life may already be all but dead, yet contracts are expected to become increasingly short-term, with people being hired to meet the needs of the market at a specific time. He said, 'We are likely to see a much greater degree of flexibility to meet the demands of globalisation.'

Prof Lewis will use his new position to explore the way the interests of employers and employees can be protected in such an environment.

He said, 'I don't think there is any magic solution. What it requires is a degree of honesty to deal with the uncertainty and conflicts that are likely to exist.'

All the evidence, he said, suggests that workers were now more alert than ever before to any infringement of their rights, and employers at greater risk of being sued. Trade unions, he said, could play a key role in helping managers and staff to work together, but they would need to redefine their role.

He said, 'The need for representation has never been greater for employers in such an unpredictable environment. Trade unions have much to offer, but it's a different offering from the past.'

Among the issues that need to be explored is how individuals will be able to cope with repayments on high levels of personal debt if it is likely there will be regular periods when they will be changing jobs.

A further problem confronting Britain is the widespread perception among migrant workers that they are the victims of bullying at a time when the economy is dependent on their labour.

Prof Lewis said, 'You were something like four times more likely to label yourself as suffering from bullying if you were from a black ethnic group.'

As the economies of developing nations mature it will become increasingly difficult for Western countries to maintain a competitive advantage.

He warned, 'Part of Assembly policy is to try and develop Wales as a knowledge society but all the world is trying to do the same thing. In an economy which is increasingly dependent on technology, being one step ahead of the game is increasingly important.'

Despite the challenges ahead, there are opportunities for individuals and families to benefit from the flexibility. People who need to work regular hours could form part of a core workforce, while others exploit opportunities on the 'periphery'.

He said, 'There might be opportunities for those coming to the end of their career to fill those non-traditional work patterns and for those at the start of their careers to find their way into organisations.': Helping SMEs pursue their goals:The Welsh Institute of Competitive Advantage will be launched today by the University of Glamorgan Business School and the Wales Management Council.The initiative is designed to bridge the gap between academic theory and day-to-day small business practice.

Its focus will be on helping businesses pursue their goals in a more strategic way.

Christopher Ward, chief executive of the Wales Management Council, said, 'Much research has identified that SME managers focus on the daily demands of the business at the expense of taking a longer term view of the marketplace.

'At the moment there is a gap in development training focused on the strategic skills SME managers need. This joint venture with WICA at the University of Glamorgan Business School will go a long way to filling that gap.'

Simon Brooks, head of WICA, added, 'Smaller businesses in Wales are among the most unlikely to employ strategic tools and techniques.

'The research we are conducting with the directors of 200 companies shows this clearly.

'This is why we are excited at the prospect of working with the WMC to help smaller businesses to think and act more strategically. 'After all, Wales largely relies on these businesses and their managers for current and future prosperity.'
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 25, 2005
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