Research from UK think tank The Work Foundation identifies four 'paradigm trades' which it claims most closely capture the 'spirit of the age'. Their report claims that it is within these four occupations that the pattern and nature of modern working life can most clearly be seen.
Managers are iconic because no other group is as big or rising as fast and they demonstrate the rising obsession with celebrity and status, the report says. The character of the manager is at the centre of most of the "fundamental moral dilemmas of our times - the clash between morality and the market", it finds.
Management consultants have achieved iconic status because they show the power of the outsider. They are the archetypal knowledge worker and they "stand for the pronounced love of change at large in the modern world".
But hairdressers and other 'bodily improvers' such as fitness trainers are just as iconic. In an increasingly electronic age, they represent how much work remains manual, physical and craft-related, and demonstrate the importance of social skills in the workplace. Impressively, they also "show how the rhetoric of globalisation has been overplayed: personal services can never be off-shored".
Celebrities complete the iconic paradigm because they demonstrate how people are becoming work, and defy the notion of productivity. They also "showcase the aesthetic turn of modern work and modern life".
Report author Stephen Overell says: "In the early 20th century, it was obvious what we meant by the word 'worker' - most of us would point to the factory worker, the unionised, male proletarian who was the key figure of his time. Today, it is no longer so obvious."
Overell says the idea behind the paradigm is that a few workers, doing very different types of work, act as representatives for the entire modern world of work. "It is these workers more than any other that offer us spokespeople for what is going on at work and within our culture as a whole," he says.
Source: Paradigm trades: The iconic trades of the early 21st century
The Work Foundation 22 August 2006
Reviewed by: Nick Loney