Facing up to change

WITH jobs for life all but gone and businesses looking to limit expenses wherever possible, there is an ever-increasing requirement for people to take responsibility for their own development.

Go back pre 1990. You might have left school early and either taken up a trade such as plumbing, hairdressing, secretarial school, travel agent, electrician. You might have finished school and sat the Public Service entrance exams, or the entry requirements for some of the other large and stable institutions, such as banks and hospitals and airlines and telecommunications. You might have been accepted into university and studied in a discipline that hopefully would assure you of gaining a career in the area of your choice.

Organisations attracted prospective employees with the promise of a career, and upward movement. The “parental” organisation took care of your needs in return for your loyalty.

Naturally enough under these situations, organisations believed it to be their role to provide all of the training and development required by their staff to perform the jobs the organisation needed to fulfil its business purpose now and into the future.

The impacts of change have been huge. Deregulation of many industries and the privatisation of many public institutions, the Internet and e-commerce, globalisation and increased competition, introduction of workplace agreements rather than collective agreements, have affected the way in which people and organisations view employment relationships.

Organisations had to be more responsive to change. The need emerged for a more agile and flexible workforce and employment arrangements.

Organisations began, and continued, to shed staff and renegotiate new terms and conditions that traded dollars over security.

Employees began questioning the wisdom of lifetime commitment to an organisation and, in response, began seeking opportunities to lead a more balanced lifestyle, work from home, undertake part time study or travel, for example.

With all this uncertainty (competition and employee demands), organisations increasingly want high-end talent when needed and don’t expect to carry the cost when it didn’t. Business has argued that there is a war on for talent. In efforts to compete for the talent, organisations are continuing to look for ways to give the right employees the flexible work environment they demand – but this comes at a price and the price is knowledge, experience and education.

Organisations do not want to pay a premium for talent and have down time in delay or cost of providing training in anything but the organisational basics.

The reasonable question to ask, therefore, is: “should organisations be heavily investing in training you for future success where many of the benefits of the investment walk out of the door if you move (even worse if you are poached by a competitor) or, should you become responsible for participating in your own skill development?

In uncertain economic times (despite Australia’s relatively stable economy), organisations can’t be certain that there will be a role for you in five years’ time.

Business platforms change so rapidly that roles will change and evolve with equal rapidity. Unimagined skills and knowledge may be required in that time.

Succession planning is now shifting to be an employee’s responsibility. Organisations may just provide the platforms for employees to succeed directly in their current role – the tools, the technology, the product and service and, importantly, the incentives to drive you in the chosen direction of the company. Beyond that it is up to you.

Employees must invest in their own training and knowledge in order to achieve the working needs that they seek, so that they can be as mobile with their career as they choose, while continuing to be an attractive proposition to organisations.

Organisations will continue to reward handsomely for the right outcomes. When those outcomes change, we had better be ready to deliver on them, or else be left being skilled in work that may no longer be valued.

James Miller is Principal Consultant of KNIPE Manage-ment, specialising in the areas of Career Development, Leadership, Organisational Development, Sales Leadership and Performance Management. Email him at or call 0403 311 176.

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