Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Social change, demographic change and the professions

I have written a fair bit on this blog about the impact of demographic and social change on the professions. I will add links to some of these later at the end of this post.

Recently there have been a number of small incidents that show just how hard this is starting to bite.

At a function at Sydney university I chatted to some senior academics in dentistry about the current shortage of dentists in Australia. We need to expand dental training, but it is almost impossible to find the dental academics required to maintain current training levels, let alone expand numbers. Those still in the academy are getting older, adding to long term problems.

A little later, I had a similar conversation with a group of doctors. They belong to a network in one of Sydney's more affluent areas, the type of area traditionally attractive to doctors for life style reasons. They, too, talked about the difficulties of finding new doctors for the network. They also talked about the impact of social change on the workforce.

The feminisation of the professional workforce has been a long standing trend. Women's need to balance career, family and children affects the way they work. Put simply, over time you need more professionals to do the same volume of work.

Men are not immune to this trend. They, too, are demanding greater working flexibility and are less prepared to make the specific long term commitments that used to be a feature of most professions. Again, you need more professionals to do the same volume of work.

The impact of these trends varies across the professions and from firm to firm. However, all are experiencing the double whammy of demographic and social change.

There is, I think, now clear evidence that firms are responding to these trends in their approaches to people management. However, my feeling is that those approaches are still too fragmented and do not adequately address the impact of the changes on the very design of work and of organisations themselves.

In a sense, we are trying to manage people in ways that will allow us to continue to do the same things. We have yet to come to grips with the idea that the things we do will have to change as well.

Somewhat later

In opening this post, I said that I would provide a list of previous posts at the end. Somewhat belatedly, I have now begun this.

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