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Contemporary job titles are no laughing matter

If you are uncertain whether or not you’d like to work as a saggar maker’s bottom knocker, I suspect you are not alone. It is easy to knock new occupational titles as being opaque, or even worse as reflecting jobs that have no inherent worth.

However, occupational titles are continually evolving and archaic job titles are equally as meaningless to those lacking the curiosity to try to understand them. Whilst archaic titles may be of little more than historic interest, dismissing current job titles as “woke”, “trendy” or “non-jobs” may be unfair and may not appreciate the complexities and needs of contemporary businesses.

Prince Harry’s new job has been described by some as ‘woke’.

Prince Harry’s new job has been described by some as ‘woke’.Credit:AP

I haven’t heard many people complaining about Human Resources recently. Or rather, more precisely, whilst I have heard many people quite rightly complaining about Human Resources departments, I have not heard people complaining about the term “Human Resources”. Yet 30 years ago, there was much harrumphing from some quarters about the abandonment of the term Personnel Officer. Indeed, the tendency to describe administrative and managerial roles with the militaristic “officer” has been in sharp decline for decades.

Similarly, I hear few complaints about the rise of software engineers and the demise of computer programmers. Indeed, had I been around in the 1960s I might have heard old duffers complaining that “software” was a term for woollen and cotton fabrics that was inappropriately applied to computer programs. Nobody would seriously suggest that software engineers are necessarily woke, superficial or the result of a preoccupation with “virtue signalling”.

Illustration

IllustrationCredit:Simon Letch

However, contemporary job titles seem to be the target of cheap laughs and accusations they mask make-work (ie unnecessary or frivolous jobs). In this newspaper, the role of an “Impact Officer” was ridiculed recently. However, in complex organisations, decisions made in one part of the organisation can have unintended or counterproductive impacts in another part of the organisation. Impact Directors (or Officers) are charged with (among other things) clarifying these impacts, which in turn can lead to increased efficiency and better customer service. This seems perfectly reasonable to me.

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The accusation of virtue signalling levelled at contemporary companies is not new. Roles in corporate social responsibility have been around for decades, as have community liaison roles. Social media is a powerful force that companies ignore at their peril. Product and service boycotts can and do damage companies just as quickly as individuals can be “cancelled”. It makes sense to have search engine optimisation specialists in the marketing team, and “listening officers” to monitor and manage the brand reputation of their organisations. This to me seems to be no more than a reflection of the contemporary scene, and the roles are just as vital as “traditional” roles such as sales manager.

Throughout history some occupational titles have proved to have a limited life, often linked to contemporary technologies and methods of work. Unskilled young boys no longer work in pottery factories making the rough clay bottoms of saggers for the sagger maker to do their decorative work. But once, their role and their title was no laughing matter.

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