Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.
Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.
OCR for page 49
5 DEVELOPING THE WORK FORCE Over the past several years, automation at the Social Security Administration (SSA) has begun to have visible and tangible effects on the work force. Continuing efforts to modernize over the next several years will bring more changes affecting the operations of the agency. These changes will continue to have an effect on the agency's work force both in the skills required and its geographical distribution. Nothing is more important to the mission of the SSA than the development of its human resources. Without careful attention to the human needs of the organization, no Systems Modernization Plan is likely to succeed. A human resources plan for the agency must consider the skills required of its work force, the training and education needed to meet those requirements, and the motivation of the staff. The plan must include both technical and programmatic personnel. FORCES OF CHANGE Demographic changes in the U.S. population will have a dramatic impact on the SSA. Its workload will increase substantially over the next two decades as the baby boom generation retires and the life span of retirees lengthens. The agency will also feel the effects of other demographic changes. The classical family unit, with a father employed full time and a mother who stays at home to care for the children, is largely a thing of the past. Increases in the number of working wives, multiple marriages, single parents, and persons employed in multiple or part-time jobs add greatly to the complexity of the agency's workload. Current automation does not deal adequately with such complexities; future improvements in information systems are called for, particularly in the organization of the database. The potential additions to the SSA's work force also differ from the traditional working population. The vast majority of new workers entering the U.S. work force in the United States will not be white males; rather they will be women and members of racial 49 i
OCR for page 50
so minority groups (William B. Johnston and Arnold E. Packer, 1987). The new employee's needs may be quite different from the typical career employee of the past in terms of educational and cultural background, career aspirations, and personal priorities. The SSA's management, along with management in all employment sectors in the United States, faces the challenging task of adapting to the new work environment and using the full talents of the emerging work force. Through the implementation of sophisticated automation systems, it is possible for an organization to maintain or improve service even should the skill level of its new incoming nontechnical workers decline. However, uz order to brim sophisticated automation systems fh~ wit e new nontechnical workers to perform sat~isfartori~ Ed w~lprovide for fled self-devek~pment, a more skim arm motivated technical work force is needed In assessing the development of the work force over the next decade. several factors must be considered. ~ 1 , e ~ first. the work content and workplace will evolve raDi~lv in an , , --rip r-~-J electronic environment, replacing paper-based systems. Second, the composition of the work force will change, both at the operations level and at the technical level, driven by the changing demographics of available workers. The implications of these changes will be felt in both the management of human resources and in the education and training needs of employees at all levels of the SSA. EFFECTS OF AUTOMATION The effects of automating SSA's core systems, as originally envisioned in its systems modernization program, have been most noticeable in the past 2 years. The transition from the district office to the telese~vice centers is the most notable change. Automation of the programmatic systems, primarily in Title II (e.g., Old Age and Survivors Insurance) activities, has provided the essential and prerequisite support needed to establish the teleserv~ce operation. This automation has affected the SSA in two major ways. First — — — ~ — ~~ ~ 7 _ ~ _ ~ _ _ e e ate _ e ~ _ _ _ e because some ot the workload ot the district offices was shifted to the teleserv~ce centers, the work force at the district offices was reduced over time. Second, the productivity of the work force and its potential to serve clients better have improved for routine Title II activities. As automation proceeds, the staff, both at the district level and at the teleservice centers, will work in a less structured environment and will require greater interpersonal skills in dealing with nonroutine client problems. Early efforts to automate focused primarily on programmatic support of Title II activities, but future efforts should extend to the more complex matters associated with claims and determination of disability for both Title II and Title XVI (e.g., Supplemental Security Income) programs. The goal of efforts to automate should be to develop systems to support virtually all high-volume activities within the agency.
OCR for page 51
51 Productivity Although much of the development work has been under way for the past several years, most of the automation of the core systems will be completed over the next 3 to 5 years. The results will allow fewer people to do the work that is currently done, and routine work will require fewer employee hours. Although the workload is expected to increase in clanns, administration, and teleservice, fewer SSA employees should be needed overall. Automation will certainly eliminate the need for some manual tasks and increase the productivity of the staff. The geographical distribution of the work force and the tasks it performs ace likely to change significantly because of teleservice and automation. Most of the new systems will generally not ~automate" major functions in the classical sense of doing away altogether with the need for clerical labor. The new systems will instead add to the efficiency and the quality of service provided by the staff. Many of the detailed functions that today are performed manually or with the aid of calelilators will he performed Dy fine computer. Such information as benefits schedules and tables, now memorized or maintained in manuals, will be available from on-line terminals. Routine procedures will be implemented more easily by expert systems capable of following a complex set of rules established by knowledgeable practitioners in the agency. The major effect of this change will be the need for fewer knowledge workers in the district offices. However, the number of complex cases is expected to increase, and handling them with fewer district-based knowledge workers could present a service problem if not properly thought through. All of the benefits of automation should certainly not be taken in the form of work force reduction. Improved productivity and the tremendous power of an information system to support the staff will permit the SSA to provide higher-quality service (e.g., faster handling of claims and improved access to assistance for those needing help). How the benefits of automation will be distributed is essentially a policy issue. A well-designed system should provide a variety of benefits, not just reduced staff requirements. Technical Workers In addition to the transition taking place in programmatic services, rapid and relentless technological advances affect the systems modernization technical staff itself New systems requirements and developments will continue to place greater demands on the SSA's technical work force, which will need to be up to the task of performing a dual role--keeping current systems operating smoothly, and planning and designing for the future. During the last few years the SSA's systems have undergone major changes, from a tape-based batch orientation to a disk-based system that supports on-line data queries, but
OCR for page 52
52 much must be done to move the SSA's processing on-line. Accommodating demographic changes in the client population will add the further complication of a need for integrated systems that will allow the processing of claims involving multiple family unit relationships with greater complexity. Knowledge of relational databases arid the skills required to develop knowledge-based systems to support future stages of SSA's systems modernization will be vital to the success of the agency. Major efforts in the area of privacy, security, distributed systems, and advanced software development techniques will be needed. The successful development of user-friendly and robust systems will require highly skilled engineers and programmers. Personnel with superior technical skills, still relatively low in number and in most cases highly paid, are currently in short supply at the SSA, which will have to compete for people with these skills now and in the future. However, recruiting technical staff with contemporary skills is only the beginning, and the SSA may not be able to hire all the talented employees it needs. Therefore, special and frequent training must be a mandatory ingredient of the total Systems Modernization Plan, not just an adjunct. Such training includes management education as well as ample opportunity for hands-on experience. No doubt outside contractors will be needed to supplement the SSA's technical work force with ongoing responsibilities to solve problems, develop strategic approaches, identify needs, transfer technical knowledge, and engender government-wide confidence. The Workplace Automation is expected to substantially change the SSA's work environment. Redistribution of the workload among the processing centers, regional offices, district offices, teleservice centers, and headquarters will be possible. This will allow SSA's managers to adjust the number of offices and their locations, giving the agency new flexibility in organizing its work. The planned automation will support work done at central locations, such as the teleservice centers, or even in private homes, to provide services to immobile clients. Specific tasks could also be performed in employees' homes, thus allowing the SSA greater flexibility to move workloads to where the knowledge workers are located and to accommodate the needs of a new work force. The rate at which such changes occur will be determined by the progress made in systems modernization. COMPOSITION OF THE TECHNICAL WORK FORCE The composition of the SSA's technical work force is likely to change in the next 10 years. During the initial phase of technical growth, the supply of technical personnel was
OCR for page 53
Ssmall. Most of the people hired had only basic commercial data-processing experience, and further training was provided in-house and on the job. However, more professionals are now entering the work force with university degrees in computer science. Up to now the demand for software professionals has outstripped supply. According to recent indications, this situation may be easing. More computer science graduates are applying for openings at colleges and universities because they were unable to find suitable positions with computer vendors, systems houses, and technical companies. This is not to say that good software designers with experience will be easy to find in the near term, or ever, but it does suggest that better-trained entry-level professionals may become more available to .. .. . . . . ... .. Also, many OI me eXperlenCeO available as a result of the scaling ~ .. . . appllcatlon-orlenten institutions such as the 55^ programmers and systems analysts who are becoming down of defense-related contracts may find the SSA's systems problems challenging. New employees from these two sources will have different views of systems and computer capabilities than do most of the current staff at the SSA. They will be more comfortable with modern computing methods and less knowledgeable about or understanding of some existing SSA procedures. Having two distinct types of technical employees in the SSA work force could be either a problem or an opportunity. It could lead to frustration if new employees are shoehorned into participating in tasks that are a poor match for their background. It could also lead to the assembly of groups that can implement innovative new projects. Of course, there should not be an impenetrable barrier between the two types of personnel. The SSA currently has some experienced staff members who would welcome innovation and some new personnel who would be more comfortable working on existing projects and focusing on gradual improvements. EDUCATING AND TRAINING THE WORK FORCE The operational work force will either be reduced by the impact of automation and budget constraints or be held constant by political pressure to maintain current levels of employment. In the latter case, service to the public should improve. Because approximately 25 percent of the SSA's employees (about 15,000 people) can be expected to retire in this decade, the majority of the SSA's work force during the l990s is already employed at the agency. But as the agency enters the t~venty-first century, new workers in significant numbers may be entering the SSA. To accommodate these new incoming workers the agency must plan on providing the training and education to prepare and equip them to do their jobs. During the 199Os, information technology will continue to move from the computer center out to the workplace and change the way the agency does its business and how workers do their jobs. This transitional period will also require increased worker training, 1
OCR for page 54
54 not just for using new technology but for new work assignments and different job responsibilities. Providing education and training for the current work force will challenge SSA managers as they move automated systems into production and introduce new technology throughout the agency. The current work force will require substantial transitional training, and hands-on training with the assistance of learner-paced training packages should be considered. The development of "help" screens within the applications themselves can greatly facilitate learning. The SSA should incorporate strategic initiatives into the agency's Systems Modernization Plan that serve to stimulate and motivate the work force. Training the technical staff presents a special challenge. The SSA should give special attention to how the required new skills can best be developed within the current staff. High-quality technical personnel greatly value the opportunity to upgrade their skills. The SSA can attract and motivate technical staff by offering exceptional opportunities for them to develop their skills by working on a variety of challenging assignments and taking ~ . ~ ~ ~ ~ . is O ~ ~ ~ ~ advantage or formal training. Such investments in human capital are highly valued by technical professionals and can even offset lower salary levels. To take advantage of this approach, the SSA's managers must develop explicit glans and Procedures for providing the needed career development opportunities. Automation often has the reputation--sometimes deserved--of eliminating the need for human skills and reducing the richness of jobs. That can happen, but it certainly does not have to be the case. Modern information systems can enable the agency to create an enriched environment that allows its workers to become more client-oriented, to handle more completely a variety of client needs, and to deal with a variety of interesting and vital client relationships. An environment must be created in which the technology provides an opportunity for personal growth and a way to give superior service to clients. All employees should be encouraged to empower themselves by learning new systems at their own pace so that they can provide more in-depth and broader programmatic support to clients. The SSA's value system of promoting and practicing fair, equitable, and responsive relationships with its employees and clients should be particularly helpful during the transition process and should be a constant theme in daily operations and employee training, which now needs to include the role of automation and its benefits to employees and clients. O CONCLUSION The SSA must continue to view its employees as a critical component of the agency's mission, deserving of a very high priority. To assure that this significant success factor is
OCR for page 55
Sc not in any way overlooked, the committee suggests that the SSA include recruitment, training, and retention of agency workers as an integral part of the information systems plans and agency strategy. The SSA must meet societal expectations for quality service. Accurate and timely information, a natural by-product of well-designed information systems, is essential to promoting and maintaining an image of quality and perhaps materially to improving it. Maintaining Commissioner King's first goal of compassionate and courteous service requires that all modernization efforts consider the effects on the agency's workers and improve their ability to provide such service. Because this is such an important ingredient in the success of the systems modernization, the committee recommends that the SSA establish an Office specifically oriented toward and charged with the responsibility of managing the human resources transition. This office would craft a strategy for recruitment, training, and retention of employees. It would also establish mechanisms to ensure that human resources considerations are fully taken into account in all information systems design and implementations. REFERENCE William B. Johnston and Arnold E. Packer. 1987. Workforce 2000: Work and Workers for the Twenty-First Century. Indianapolis, Ind.: Hudson Institute.
OCR for page 56
Representative terms from entire chapter: