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Do You Understand the New Workforce

January 1, 1999
Related Topics: Future Workplace, Workforce Planning, Featured Article
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Here's a quiz to see how much you understand about the new workplace. The answers follow.

Questions:

  1. TRUE or FALSE?
    The "job" is a historical phenomenon and, as such, it has a limited life-expectancy.
  2. TRUE or FALSE?
    The main source of job-loss in this country has been the lower cost of labor in other countries.
  3. TRUE or FALSE?
    Information technology is a solvent causing jobs to dissolve.
  4. TRUE or FALSE?
    The speed of change will force organizations to rewrite all their job descriptions, but it'll only make those job descriptions more important to how work actually gets done.
  5. TRUE or FALSE?
    The disappearance of jobs in Europe and Japan will never have the impact it has had in America because of lifetime employment and safety nets.
  6. TRUE or FALSE?
    Temporary workers do less than 5 percent of the work being done in America today.
  7. TRUE or FALSE?
    The modern corporation couldn't exist without the majority of its work being done by regular employees.

Answers:

  1. Q: The "job" is a historical phenomenon and, as such, it has a limited life-expectancy.
    A: TRUE-No one ever had a job until the Industrial Revolution. Then they boxed up work into your job and my job and her job. Those jobs spawned job-descriptions and job-classifications and job-grades and all the rest. We'll look back on the period between the mid-19th and the late 20th century as "The Age of the Job."
  2. Q: The main source of job-loss in this country has been the lower cost of labor in other countries.
    A: FALSE-That is a factor, but the biggest single factor is the frequency of change, which makes traditional "jobs" too rigid to succeed today. Some of the other things contribute to the frequency of change are:
    • New technology
    • The prevalence of knowledge work
    • The dynamic needs of the baby boom
    • Management efforts (outsourcing, TQM and reengineering, to name a few) which are intended to improve the organization.
    • The presence of new levels of competition.

    Together, these things create a situation where organizations can no longer afford any organizational element that is not highly flexible.

  3. Q: Information technology is a solvent causing jobs to dissolve.
    A: TRUE-Information technology turns more and more work into knowledge-In two ways: work, which can't be carved up with traditional job-descriptions the way industrial labor could; and information technology helps destroy the time and space framework within which the traditional job existed. Work can now be done anytime, anywhere.
  4. Q: The speed of change will force organizations to rewrite all their job descriptions, but it'll only make those job descriptions more important to how work actually gets done.
    A: FALSE-Doing that will mean that writing job-descriptions will need to utilize the half the workers. The answer is not rewriting, but a culture that encourages workers to do-and gravitate to-the work that needs doing. People in this world have "assignments," not jobs. They work on cross-functional project teams, not in traditional departments.
  5. Q: The disappearance of jobs in Europe and Japan will never have the impact it has had in America because of lifetime employment and safety nets.
    A: FALSE-About four or five years ago, many people thought that these issues were narrowly American. But then Europe's unemployment rate skyrocketed and Japan's economy melted down. It suddenly became clear that those things that had looked as though they would protect the countries had actually made the problem worse when it struck.
  6. Q: Temporary workers do less than 5 percent of the work being done in America today.
    A: DEPENDS-It depends what you mean by "temporary." If you mean the worker came from a temp agency, the number is probably even less than that. But if you mean "temporary" as in someone whose employment is contingent on a continued need for that work to be done and on his or her adding value to the customer, then everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) is a temp.
  7. Q: The modern corporation couldn't exist without the majority of its work being done by regular employees.
    A: FALSE-That used to be true, but look at Dell Computer. They get work equivalent to 80,000 full-time workers, but there are only 15,000 on the payroll. And not one of them can count on "doing my job" to provide continued employment. Or look at Job Boss Software in Minneapolis, where the CEO says that they're like a volleyball team because "it takes three hits to get the ball over the net and it doesn't matter who hits it." Doesn't matter who does what? What about job descriptions? Zounds!

SOURCE: California-based William Bridges & Associates

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