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Greater diversity in the workplace

By Peter Nolan for CNN

Peter Nolan
Nolan: "New generations will place a premium on a better work-life balance."

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(CNN) -- Making sense of the prospects for the future of work and employment in a fast changing global economy is a formidable task.

Will more people work as independent artisans, as some commentators predict, or be subject to the rhythms, places and patterns of work set by globally organized corporations?

Will there be scope for national and international organizations to secure decent employment opportunities and working conditions as investments in people become more international?

The evidence base suggests that employment is expanding, but unevenly and with varied conditions and levels of security.

Job tenure rates are increasing and organizations are drawing back from the hollowing-out policies of recent years, but many employees are dissatisfied with their jobs.

The shape of organizations will continue to change, but the decisions that affect the experiences of workers' lives will become more centralized.

There will be more diversity, more post-65 employees as employers access an aging population, and there will be a continuing battle to secure equality of opportunity and rewards for women and men.

The 24/7 working routines that have featured prominently may be difficult to sustain as new generations place a premium on a better work-life balance.

There will be pressures on employers to demonstrate greater imagination and responsibility from employers.

How will employment patterns change? Services dominate, accounting for eight in 10 employees working in, for example, the caring services, distribution, retail, hotels and catering and routine manual jobs such as cleaning, hairdressing and security.

Is this a future that can be sustained without a parallel growth in high value added employment opportunities?

The decline of the manufacturing industries that provided the engine of growth in the advanced western economies in the past is a long-standing trend that may not be reversed.

Conversely, the growth of high value, professional, technical and management employment opportunities (in legal, education and health services) is likely to continue.

The corollary will be the expansion of the services that support an increasingly segmented workforce -- the "hour-glass" economy.

The prosperity of the highly paid, work rich households will stimulate the growth of low paid workers with limited legal protections.

Work in 2020 will not be predetermined by new technologies or by the forces of international business.

The interplay of management practices, employee organizations and government interventions have shifted the character of work and employment in the past and will do so in the future.

-- Peter Nolan is professor of industrial relations at Leeds University Business School and the director of the Future of Work Programme.

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