Conventionally, we called operational staff blue collar or manual workers. This doesn’t really work as a descriptor for front-line staff in modern organisations. They are just as likely to be waiting at a table, on the phones in a call centre, serving in a retail outlet, or working in a care home as they are to be on a factory floor.
What has remained constant, though, is that most organisations put less resource into the management and development of their operational staff than they devote to managerial and professional employees. Organisations have for years not done enough to optimise the output and the development of their operational workforces. In many organisations they are treated as a cost base rather than a source of competitive advantage. Investment in their skill and career development has been in decline for the last two decades. This cannot continue.
We have been talking about rapid change in business and work for years but the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the pace of change. It shocked us into bringing about organisational change at speed. Shifts in working practices which we assumed would take months, or even years, occurred in a matter of weeks. As is often the case, the discussion of these changes and their long-term implications has focused on those in professional and managerial occupations. Yet much of the impact, in terms of the restructuring of the labour force, is likely to fall on the rest of the workforce – those in various operational roles ranging from manufacturing and warehousing through to call centres and social care.
Without a significant re-skilling of front-line workers, many advanced economies and many companies are likely to run into problems. Covid-19 is likely to accelerate some of the trends which were gathering pace beforehand. Operational roles are likely to be the section of the workforce most affected by technological and economic developments over the next decade.
How do we need to re-skill employees for their new role and purpose in a changed world? How do we develop the operational workforce as a source of strategic competitive advantage? This report will aim to provide insights into the changing nature
of operational employment and will focus on good practice case studies of companies that have developed their entire workforce to fit the future.