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Professionals as flexible workers or portfolio people


Graham Guest is presenting a paper for debate at the European Conference on Educational Research in Lisbon in September. Here he gives us a summary of his view of work in the present and near future.

Over recent years many new organisational models have appeared: for example the learning organisation and the centerless corporation. Now the very concept of an organisation is being challenged and we are seeing the rapid growth of networks.

In a networked world individuals no longer have long-term relationships with single organisations, but carry out projects and assignments as members of different groups. Charles Handy calls these individuals portfolio people. They operate in a world in which the model of the “cathedral”, with its clearly defined but restrictive hierarchies, is giving way to that of the more chaotic yet freer environment of the “bazaar”.

As professionals portfolio people have many loyalties, but if they are to be truly effective members of, and contributors to, the knowledge-society their first loyalty must be to themselves. In effect they are one-person businesses, increasingly using the latest information and communications technologies to allow them to operate in a virtual world. In Britain over 60 per cent of all registered businesses have no employees, only the owner.

Portfolio people need to be flexible within their working and personal lives. For many such people the concept of work-life balance is meaningless because their work is firmly integrated into the rest of their lives. This new scenario has implications for social provision, since portfolio people are less likely to retire in the traditional sense. It also raises questions about professional identity. In the days when a person could expect a job for life this identity was clearly defined. Now professionals find themselves taking on different roles throughout their lives.

As for education and training, a single professional qualification is still too often thought to be sufficient to serve a person for life. In a networked world however it is lifelong learning, including personal and professional development, that is the key to prosperity and well-being. Responsibility for this again lies with the individual professional, for whom it is yet another aspect of his or her portfolio.

How do you manage to maintain learning to keep up with changes in the world of work? Post your comments below.


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