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The Transformation of the “Professional Employee”

The Transformation of the “Professional Employee”

Human resources people often like to say (at least in the past) that there are three kinds of employees – Exempt (from overtime pay), non-exempt and hourly. Another way of saying this is that there are professional/managerial employees, support and administrative employees and so-called “blue collar” operatives. Although these lines are now blurring and may not adequately cover the range of people in the workplace these days, to the extent that they exist, all three are experiencing dramatic change and none more so than the “professional employee”. In this brief article, we will therefore look at what has changed in the past 15 years or so before taking a brief look at where we may be going in the next 15.

Although it feels like a short timeframe, as the chart below indicates, for professional employees the world of work was very different just fifteen years ago or in a world well-understood by generational “boomers” and “gen X’s”, if not today’s large work cohort “millennials”. In order to show the contrast, the chart below uses five headings on the left including 1) The Relationship that exists between the individuals and the organization of which they are a part, 2) the main approach taken when communicating, 3) the main approach taken to teams and teamwork, 4) the essential skill or knowledge set required, and 5) how technology is utilized.

As can be seen in the chart, the contrast (which is summarized at the bottom of each of these sections in red) is quite marked with the overall transition seeming to be a move from a largely task defined professional employee to one which can be seen as more of a project consultant. While this may not be universally true it now seems to describe the majority of these workers.

The Transformation of the “Professional Employee” Chart

As if this change is not big enough, the industries which employed the employees of 15 years ago have also shifted significantly in this very short time frame, with larger organizations in sectors like Aerospace, automotive and Manufacturing in general for instance, far less in prevalence and much smaller sized organizations in these industries and elsewhere becoming much more abundant. In addition, if we look at a list of traditional industries such as the fifteen shown in the table below, they are now in the process of rapidly transforming themselves in terms of where they see themselves going in the future.

15 “Old” Industries

Print Farming Monitoring
Computers Apparel Energy
Research Education Transport
Automotive Healthcare Water supply
Airlines Automation Turbines

This brings with it new industry names or “branding” that is likely to attract many of these new project consultants and freelance people working considerably more flexibly than ever before. 

15 “New” Industries which are likely to experience massive growth

3D Printing Food technology Sensor technology
App/Software development Internet of Things development Solar technology
Big Data Research Online education Smart logistics
Driverless Vehicles Online healthcare Water technology
Drone development Robotics Wind technology

If so much change can happen in just 15 years, it certainly begs the question, how much will things have changed in 15 years from now?

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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