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How to... Survive the workplace of the future

Your Career Workplace

IN 1970, Tomorrow's World presenter James Burke predicted that by 1993 the average national working week in Britain would be 22.33 hours.

IT may have revolutionised the civil engineering industry, but computers have done little to free us from the shackles of the workplace. And what about the flexible workplace predicted by employment experts of the mid- 1990s, with most of us teleworking from home by the end of the decade?

'In construction there are huge barriers - some real and some exaggerated - to developing more flexible working structures,' says communications, marketing and management consultant Sandi Rhys Jones. Jones conceived and now manages the DETR-funded initiative 'Change the face of construction', which aims to improve the performance of the industry through increasing the involvement of women and other under-represented groups. 'Communications generally are pretty poor,' she adds, 'and part-time working is a rarity, let alone teleworking, which causes problems not only to women but also to men who have care responsibilities.'

If civil engineering is to justify its traditional role as a profession that harnesses the forces of nature for the benefit of society, says Rhys Jones, it must catch up and reflect that society by providing a good working environment, for women as well as men.

ICE careers manager Lesley Snashfold says she is seeing an increase in the number of short term individual contracts being offered to members. 'Civil engineers must make sure their skills are up to date to best take advantage of this,' she recommends.

Mark Swift of the Engineering Employers Federation predicts skills will fuel change: 'By 2010 more than half the people working in engineering will have had some form of higher education, and people will have a wider variety of skills, like financial awareness or a second language,' he says.

Caroline McNally, human resources director at Allott & Lomax Consulting Engineers, says improving communications is the way forward: inter-office communications (teambuilding) and inter-disciplinary communications.

We will work increasingly in multidisciplinary teams in the years to come, predicts Nick Isles, head of external affairs at the Institute of Personnel & Management. And these teams will have 'flat management structures, where empowered individuals will be expected to take the initiative when necessary.'

So the message is clear: improve your skills and you'll improve your prospects in the workplace. Yet experts continue to predict a 'workless world' - in which the twin forces of globalisation and technological change are combining to wipe out jobs as we know them.

But what sort of a brave new world will it be without a well-maintained infrastructure and environment? Civil engineers can take comfort in the fact that they're likely to be donning their hard hats and site boots well into the new millennium.

Sandi Rhys Jones tel (020) 8305 2277


Lesley Snashfold, ICE tel (020) 7665 2105

Key points

Short term contracts offer opportunities to work less or at least differently

Upgrade your communiction skills

Broaden your abilities with a second language or financial training

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