Sunday, November 24, 2019
Technological society Essays
Technological society Essays Technological society Essay Technological society Essay Critically assess the contention that the introduction of new technologies into an organisation inevitably leads to deskilling. Although the deskilling debate only started in 1974, when Harry Bravermans thesis, Labour and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century was published, the causes for the argument had begun many years earlier, in the 1890s with the introduction of F. W Taylors ideas for reorganising work. Braverman (1920-1976) was a sheet metal worker, and a member of the American Communist party. It was his background in skilled trades that allowed him to analyse the changes that were taking place. As it was Braverman that first came up with the theory of deskilling, it is his definition that should be considered. His definition says that: skill represents the central asset possessed by workers, and that modern capitalist systems of work design, like Taylorism, degrade or deskill work, as a means of controlling and cheapening it. (Braverman, 1974). This Marxist analysis was a direct challenge to the long accepted views and implemented methods of Taylor. Braverman also argued that new technologies play a vital role in deskilling, and by working on new technologies workers build for themselves more modern, more scientific, more dehumanised prisons of labour. Taylor was an American engineer, who developed the idea of Scientific Management over 100 years ago. His principles of organising and controlling work recommended to managers that complex tasks needed to be split up into the maximum number of subtasks possible (Fincham Rhodes, 2005). There were other recommendations given by Taylor, namely the divorce of conception from execution. This told managers that All possible brainwork should be removed from the shop and centred in the planning or laying out department (Braverman 1974:113) It was this that Braverman heavily criticised, and so it must be looked at how the introduction of new technologies could cause this to happen. One of the best known and earliest examples of Taylorism in practice in the workplace is at General Motors plants at the start of the last century. By using Taylors methods, and introducing the assembly line, output increased from 8,700 in 1906 to 34,000 in 1911, 300,000 in 1914, rising to 1.9 million in 1923. (Tolliday Zeitlin, 1992) These massive increases in production came without the use of skilled labour, by 1914, over half the workforce were Southern and Eastern European immigrants, many of whom had no relevant experience, and spoke little or no English (Meyer, 1981). It would therefore seem like the introduction of new technology that caused the giant increases in output did not affect all workers in terms of deskilling, the majority of workers would probably have become more skilled due to their employment. However, labour turnover was at 370% and 71% of these workers left within their first week. These workers were probably most likely to be the unskilled immigrant workers that did not have the reliance on their wages that American workers had for their families. Therefore perhaps deskilling was less prominent than it would first seem due to the introduction of new technology and the assembly line. However, we must also consider why labour turnover was so high at Fords production plants in the early 1910s. Assembly line work is notoriously boring, partly due to the removal of creativity and craft from the workers, which much have been demoralising as these workers had initially been employed for having these qualities. Therefore, the high labour turnover experienced may have been due to workers leaving due to the deskilling that was evidently in existence, and them moving to other production industries that had not yet implemented new technologies. There are also recent examples of the introduction of new technologies into an organisation causing deskilling. In the field of law, in the past lawyers were expected to have a broad knowledge of the law, but today this is not possible due to the volume of legal material that is produced (Webb, 1996). Today, IT takes a much bigger role in a lawyers position, due to the changes in legal practice that have happened due to the technology that was not in existence 10 years ago. Due to the increase in IT, jobs that once required highly skilled employees can now be carried out by less qualified workers (Onwusah, 1997). So again we can see that deskilling has been caused due to the introduction of new technologies. It is important to consider the choice of new technology that is brought into an organisation to see whether it will lead to deskilling. As has been seen in the previous examples, the introduction of the assembly line in motor vehicle manufacturing and the introduction of IT into the practice of law and other professional industries, new technology has caused and created deskilling. However, in some circumstances deskilling would not be caused, but reskilling would occur. In order for new technology to be implemented in an organisation, employees need to have the skills in order to use the equipment. Through training, workers can learn new skills, which are more relevant in todays technological world. A clear example of reskilling can be seen in the field of design. In the past the drawing of plans was very time consuming and required great precision, if points were just 1mm wrong then the whole plan would have to be started again. Now, due to the introduction of Computer Aided Design (CAD) these workers have not only become reskilled, they can use their existing skills in addition to learning new techniques. Employees in this field still need their precision skills, for example when using graphics tablets, but will also gain skills in using the relevant software. This evidence would tend to suggest that the contention that the introduction of new technology into organisations leads to deskilling was incorrect, and that it would depend on what type of technology was introduced. If technology completely takes over a persons role in a company, or takes away the employees need to have particular skills then deskilling is likely to happen, on the other hand if the introduction of new technology can work alongside employees in order to assist and aid them in their work then reskilling is more likely to occur. The type of organisation that the new technology is to be brought into is also an important factor in deciding whether deskilling will be caused. As we have already seen, in the production of motor vehicles deskilling is caused by new technologies. This can also be seen in other secondary sector organisations, for example the textile industry. In the past everything would be sewn by hand, requiring much skill, whereas from the middle of the 19th century technology was introduced, reducing the need for skilled workers, and deskilling those already in the industry. However, if we look at tertiary sector organisations reskilling is probably more likely. In the medical profession, workers at all levels in an organisation are likely to have gained more skills due to the introduction of new technologies than becoming deskilled. At the lowest level, for example a receptionist in a GP surgery, records are now stored electronically as well as on paper, increasing the complexity of their work. Looking at a higher level, a GP still has to go through years of training to become fully qualified, and now also has to be computer literate, for example in order to produce prescriptions and use diagnostic software. In addition to this, developments in the technologies available to surgeons have meant that much more skilled operations can be carried out, which in turn has increased the skill requirements required to perform operations. On the other hand, if we look at another service occupation, the field of banking, obvious deskilling has taken place. A bank clerk was once a highly regarded profession, requiring years of training. However, today the banks have reduced their qualification requirements for recruits. This is due to the computer age, as all transactions can now be carried out electronically, removing the skills that were once required. It cannot therefore be said that the introduction of new technology will always lead to deskilling in an organisation, each individual situation would need to be looked at separately in order to decide upon this. As it has so far been difficult to quantify whether new technologies will lead to deskilling or not, it is helpful to look at and consider any research that has been carried out on this subject. Data from the Swedish Level of Living surveys that were carried out between 1968 and 1991 by a group at the Swedish Institute for Social Research is probably one of the most important tools available when looking at deskilling due to the introduction of new technology. The surveys had a sample size of around 3,000 people, who were in employment and of working age. The differences between classes of jobs is shown to be important when looking at whether deskilling takes place. This can be seen from the diagrams on the next page, produced using results from the survey. Diagrams from (Jonsson, 1998:614). As we can see from these charts, there is a mixture of deskilling and upskilling, which can be related to the social class of work. For both sets of data, the two social classes that have obviously been upskilled are W4, which is lower grade white collar workers, including typists and B2, which is unskilled manual workers, including assemblers and cleaners. This is also supported by other works, for example The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, which claims that blue collar work has been upgraded through automation and technical development (Bell, 1973). On the other hand if we take the class of W1, which is the upper service class, including engineers, employees opinions are that this field has been deskilled due to the introduction of new technology, supporting the contention. However, data is only available up to 1991, and if a survey were to be carried out today then I would expect due to the massive increase in information technology over the past 15 years that peoples opinions would have changed to that of upskilling. Bravermans thesis on deskilling suggested that due to the degradation of work from the introduction of new technology, employees became bored in their role. However, the Swedish research seems to oppose this, as can be seen from the table below: (Jonsson, 1998:613) Over the time period, for both men and women, the percentage of monotonous content in jobs has decreased, suggesting again that there has been a general upskilling of jobs, contesting Bravermans views. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that this is a general trend, and that some lower level white collar workers may experience deskilling, due to the impact that the introduction of new technologies has on their roles. Finally the idea that the introduction of new technologies into an organisation will inevitably lead to deskilling must be considered. Few things can ever be certain to happen, and from the evidence that we have seen, deskilling is probably unlikely to occur in todays ever expanding technological society. In conclusion, it would seem that the contention that the introduction of new technologies into an organisation inevitably leads to deskilling is incorrect, and each individual situation needs to be looked at in order to see if the contention can be proved, however it would appear as the world gains a greater reliance on technology, skills are not being decreased, but the type of skills required is changing.