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How Work Happens
Technology has always had an impact on how work evolves. In medieval Europe, artisans worked with tools, at their homes, with the merchant supplying the raw materials and collecting the finished goods. The technological developments during the Industrial Revolution brought large machinery and established the factory system as we know it today.
The recent advancements in technology, such as the development of computers and robust communication technologies make shifting work away from the factory to disparate locations possible, and allows us to work anytime, anywhere. Leveraging the technological developments in computing and communications, businesses offer telecommuting, allowing employees to work from their home, and establish outsourcing. It also allows them to use the best talent at the most cost-effective price from anywhere in the world.
The latest moves in technological development facilitates advances in microprocessors to make real-time speech recognition, translation and robotics possible. Such developments will have widespread implications on the nature of most jobs, especially in manufacturing, back office processing, and logistics; by automating many jobs and throwing open new possibilities to perform work in a better manner. For instance, advancements in communication infrastructures would make teleconferencing seamless; doing away with the need for business travel, and ushering in macro level changes such as a reduced demand for jobs in airlines and hospitality industries, and an increased demand for technocrats who can provide the technology and infrastructure for teleconferencing and allied technologies.
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Work Systems and Procedures
Technological developments have a profound impact on the nature and characteristics of work systems and procedures. The recent technological improvements in computing cause job enlargement and job enrichment in most jobs. This combined with the new work methods such as telecommuting, see more and more organizations shift from the traditional hierarchical and process-driven organizations, to flat result -based organizations.
Technology induced changes also provides employees and job seekers with greater control of their work. An increasing component of the workforce is now independent contractors who work on contract rather than as permanent employees. While such employees may not have job security or attain the standard benefits available to permanent employees, they obtain the freedom to determine what to do, when to do, where to do, and how to do whatever they want. Employers also obtain the benefit of selecting the best or the most suitable candidate for specific projects, rather than have a set of permanent employees and therefore a limited skill-set.
Such freedom however, also blurs the distinction between professional and personal lives, and technological development such as mobile computing allow employees to mix personal tasks and official work, such as say, keep an appointment with the doctor, and work on the laptop connected to the corporate intranet through 3G or Wi-Fi while waiting at the appointment.
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Automation and Speed
The advancement of technology has always lead to a corresponding increase in the pace of work, and the recent developments in computing power and communication infrastructure has sped up the pace even more. The advent of computers automates many processes, compiling in a fraction of a second what otherwise took hours or even days. The following instances, which most people now take for granted, illustrate how technology is changing jobs:
- Emails and instant messages make communicating with people around the world hassle free and seamless.
- The Internet provides precise and relevant information at one's fingertips. Information which otherwise required a visit to the library and eyeballing through different books or manual indexes is now a click away.
- Applications perform complex calculations and provide ready-made graphs and analytics on the input of base values, which otherwise required a separate department of employees.
- Packages such as ERP, PERT and others, allow integration of work processes or scheduling tasks in a much better and fail-safe way than was otherwise possible.
Technology automates rule-based repetitive work, and as such makes most clerical work redundant. For instance, word processors make the job of stenographers obsolete. Earlier, many offices had a pool of stenographers and typists, but with the advent of computers, such positions have become obsolete. Accounting software makes accounting easy, and work becomes faster and easier compared to the earlier practice of manually reconciling ledgers and vouchers, typing trial balances, correcting them by hand, and re-typing it; a process which could take weeks. Net banking, automated check-in counters, vending machines and other machines eliminate the need for people to man counters.
The human element is still dominant in some back office processing works, but as technology continues to develop, even these positions would become redundant. A case in point is medical transcription. As speech recognition software is still in a rudimentary stage, medical transcription work remains viable. The advancement of technology however, makes such jobs obsolete, with only a few quality checkers required. Similarly, the advancements of robotics would automate simple physical tasks such as janitorial work, waiting on tables, and other service work, which now remains trivial for humans, but extremely difficult to program.
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The greater integration of technology to work, increases the basic competencies for a person to gain any employment. If good communication skills, basic knowledge of English and elementary Math was the minimum required for employment, knowledge of computers and the ability to operate the latest gadgets now finds inclusion in the list.
Employability depends not only on learning new competencies, but also on unlearning obsolete things rapidly. Training has moved from something that the company sponsors when change occurs to a permanent fixture and part of the individual’s self-developmental activities. Mastery in the new competency also requires working obsessively at their trade or craft, to thrive when uncertainty and ambiguity reigns. Employees and job seekers who keep themselves updated and adept, stand the best change of gaining the most out of technological improvements.
- Lankard Brown, Bettina. "The Web: Creating and Changing Jobs. Trends and Issues Alert"http://www.calpro-online.org/eric/textonly/docgen.asp?tbl=tia&ID=118, Retrieved 05 August 2011.
- Image Credit 2: freedigitalphotos.net/mistermong
- Martha Lagace, Harvard Business School. “How Computers Are Changing Your Career(s).” http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/4240.html. Retrieved August 05, 2011.
- Image Credit 1: freedigitalphotos.net/jscreationzs
- "The Future of Jobs and Work." http://www.smartmanager.com.au/web/au/smartmanager/en/pages/110_changing.html. Retrieved August 05, 2011.