Magazine article Management Today

Disappearing Jobs

Magazine article Management Today

Disappearing Jobs

Article excerpt

With every recession comes job cuts, but are some roles lost forever as the creative destruction of economic cycles rolls on?

Alexander Garrett uncovers which occupations are dying out and which might be the jobs of the future.

When the Comprehensive Spending Review takes a knife to public spending this autumn, one consequence is likely to be far fewer recruitment ads of the 'Inclusiveness Officer' or 'Putting People First Programme Manager' variety appearing in our newspapers. Such nebulous job titles, tinged with political correctness and often offered by local authorities, have been the butt of Conservative criticism in recent years, and are likely to be among the easiest casualties in the cull of public sector jobs.

Whether they will be the only casualties of the economic slump of the late noughties remains to be seen. The recession and the preceding financial crisis have already resulted in swathes of jobs cut over the past two years. Some 15,000 estate agents were estimated to have lost their jobs by the end of 2008; tens of thousands of jobs have been cut in financial services over the past 12 months; and manufacturing and construction are among sectors that have been savagely hit.

But what long-lasting effects will the recession have on the jobs market? Are there occupations already in long-term decline, for which the downturn will provide the coup de grace? And what about the jobs that sprang up during the spending boom years, the buy-to-let mortgage brokers and overseas property specialists: will they now disappear as quickly as they came?

The consensus among those who study employment patterns is that recessions, through their cyclical nature, don't transform the job market in their own right, but accelerate trends that were already there. Add to this the burst of innovation that often accompanies austere times and conditions are right for the kind of creative destruction that economist Joseph Schumpeter favoured. Job destruction can be a good thing after all, renewing and reinvigorating an economy.

Mark Spilsbury, chief economist of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, says: 'The labour market is hugely dynamic. Jobs are always changing and being re-invented - it's not something new.'

One effect of recession, he says, is to 'drive out companies that are behind the times'. The long-term forces shaping our labour market are the shift in industrial balance from manufacturing towards services, automation through technology, and globalisation that prompts companies to move employment to countries where workers can be paid less.

But some job losses result directly from the fall in business during a recession and may be only temporary. 'In the case of estate agents, their numbers fell because transactions fell off a cliff,' says Spilsbury. 'The long-term question is whether we will need as many estate agents as we used to.'

A picture of which jobs were declining fastest before the recession is given by Labour Force Survey figures for England from 2001 to 2009. The biggest fallers include industrial and manufacturing jobs such as assemblers of electrical products and vehicles, metal workers, tool makers, sewing machinists and printers. Alongside them are typists, telephonists and a variety of sales roles, from telephone sales to roundsmen and credit agents.

Jim Hillage, director of research at the Institute of Employment Studies, says: 'These can generally be explained by the process having changed, or the jobs having been shipped overseas. In the case of printing or typing, we can often do them for ourselves through our own computers; while garments and textiles is an example where most of the business has moved abroad.'

In the case of sales and distribution, behaviours and buying patterns have simply changed, he says. 'For example, you have far fewer people driving round in trucks and selling to stores, which is the role of the roundsman. …

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