Click for next page ( 168


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



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 167
c Conclusions and Recommendations SUMMARY This report has examined the effects of technological change on the quantity of women's paid employment opportunities and on the quality of their jobs. Because so many women work in clerical occupations, it has focused primarily on innovations in telecommunications and information processing and on their impact on clerical work. New microprocessing and telecommunications tech- nologies have been introduced and applied rapidly in offices in the last 10 years. This rapid change is part both of continuing technological change in the indus- tries that employ clerical workers and of concomitant changes in work organi- zation, which occur in response to new market conditions and other economic or political factors. Much clerical work, especially in large workplaces but to some extent in nearly all offices, has been reorganized; the content of clerical jobs has been modified; the geographic distribution of jobs has shifted; and new products and services have been introduced, while others have disappeared or declined in importance. Some occupations have almost disappeared from the labor market and new ones have emerged. Overall, the total number of jobs held by clerical workers has not declined, but the rate of clerical employment growth has slowed relative to the growth of total employment. There have been both in- creases and declines in employment linked to the introduction of new technolo- gies in a number of specific occupations. The effects of technological change are difficult to identify and even more difficult to quantify for several reasons. First, technological changes occur within the context of many other changes in economic conditions, interna- 167

OCR for page 167
168 COMPUTER CHIPS AND PAPER CLIPS tional competition, and labor supply. Second, the data available for studying the employment effects of technological change are inadequate. Third, the changes of interest are still very much in process, and past changes set limits on the present and future. Fourth, the future economic environment in which the adoption of technologies will take place is uncertain. With these limitations clearly in mind, the panel has thoroughly considered the evidence available and offers its best judgment, as of 1986, as to what the next 10 years are likely to hold for women's employment. With regard to levels of employment, the panel expects that current patterns of change will continue over the next 10 years. These patterns the slowdown of growth in clerical employment, the on-going shifts in the relative importance of various clerical occupations, and the reorganization of work together are of a magnitude that some workers will be seriously affected. Some may become unemployed. Others may experience skill mismatch between their capabilities and available jobs. New entrants may have difficulty finding entry-level jobs. However, most of these effects are likely to be transitional. In this chapter the panel recommends courses of action to assist workers, employers, government, and private organizations to respond to the changes identified in this report. Since there is some uncertainty about our expectation of continued moderate change, however, the panel also offers policy suggestions that should come into play if the future employment situation develops in a way that more severely affects clerical workers than is now expected. The new technologies have the potential to alter job quality as well as job quantity. The panel has not been able to determine whether, on balance, the technologies have thus far decreased the quality of clerical work by increased routinization, fragmentation, or abusive electronic monitoring, for example, or improved it by facilitating intellectual challenge and growth of competence. Effects are inevitably mixed. The new technologies have been implemented in a wide variety of ways and will continue to be introduced in new and diverse situations. Several surveys show that workers are generally satisfied, and often happy, with the new capabilities because they have eliminated repetitive tasks, such as retyping manuscripts. But several surveys of health effects show that workers who use automated office equipment and report that they have strict production quotas or are monitored closely are more likely to indicate stress- related psychological and physiological symptoms. The panel's recommenda- tions are aimed at minimizing the negative possibilities and improving job qual- ity. They are primarily concerned with the transition period in which different changes may bring about temporary job loss for some workers and with paIticu- larly vulnerable groups. They also address possible reductions in job quality when technology is introduced to some aspects of clerical jobs. Because of women's preponderance in the clerical work force and because of the importance of clerical work as an occupation for women, the trends in job

OCR for page 167
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 169 quantity and job quality can pose special problems for women. Women are more likely than men to have received an inadequate education in mathematics, science, and technology. Hence, they may be less able to take advantage of new opportunities that involve technical skills. Women also still bear most of the responsibility for dependent care and household tasks. Thus, women facing unemployment, the need for retraining, or possible relocation may face addi- tional barriers to successful negotiation of transition to new jobs. For various reasons including the types of jobs they hold, opportunities for advancement, and their generally lower wageswomen may not have received valuable train- ing or education programs while employed and so may face the future with less training, fewer skills, and more limited resources than other displaced workers. Women may also have less experience in participating in workplace decisions that affect their job content and job design. Minority women's problems and needs are even more acute because of their greater disadvantages in education and because of their place in the occupa- tional structure. Their jobs, including those within the clerical sector, are clus- tered in relatively few occupations and industries, which in some cases are expected to be especially negatively affected by technological change. Physi- cally handicapped or older women and new entrants may also experience dis- proportionate effects. Although the panel expects that in some ways the new technologies will affect women and men differently, in other ways the effects on women workers occur primarily because of their roles as workers, not because they are women. Both women and men may experience a poor fit between skills developed in previous jobs and those in newly available ones. Women and men with ade- quate education and training in school or on the job will be able to adapt to the anticipated changes in the distribution of available jobs; they will be able to shift among clerical jobs or to pursue other jobs. Broadly speaking, technologi- cal change requires flexible responses from all workers. All workers can benefit from good basic education and additional education or training in science and technology. Therefore, the panel's recommendations address the needs of women as workers (and, hence, apply to male workers as well) in addition to women workers' special needs that stem from their present disadvantaged posi- tion. Overall, most consumers, employers, and workers benefit from technologi- cal change through lower prices, new products, higher profits, and higher wages based on productivity increases; some workers and firms, however, are losers in the process. The panel has based its recommendations for private and public action on the long-standing tradition that when costs are borne dispro- portionately by a few, they are socially shared. There are several reasons for this tradition. First, whenever benefits are shared by many but the costs are borne by few, market mechanisms to distribute costs are unlikely to develop on

OCR for page 167
170 COMPUTER CHIPS AND PAPER CLIPS their own. Second, there are economies of scale both in dealing with uncer- tainty and in collecting and disseminating information about societywide change. These reasons imply a role for government in monitoring the distribu- tion of costs and facilitating sharing, which have been and continue to be func- tions of government at all levels. In addition, governments are major suppliers of services and major employers, and they are also large users of new technolo- gies. Thus, they have the potential to act as a model of good implementation practices. Because of the preponderant role of the federal government and the national scope of many employers and unions, the federal government should be a key participant. The social sharing envisioned here has both a private and a public component. In addition to government monitoring, supervision, and support, collaborative efforts by designers and manufacturers of equipment, employers, educators, workers, unions, and women's organizations are needed to manage the changing number and distribution of clerical jobs and to alleviate possible reduced quality in these jobs. The recommendations that follow address the two types of change discussed in this report- the quantity and quality of employment. They represent the considered view of the panel about the best ways to deal with the changes currently underway and expected in the next decade. The recommendations are organized by eight subjects: education, training, and retraining; employment security and flexibility; expansion of women's job opportunities; adaptive job transitions; identification and dissemination of good technological design and practice; worker participation; monitoring health concerns; and data and re- search needs. Each of the sections begins with a statement of the panel's major conclusions. EDUCATION, TRAINING, AND RETRAINING Technological change today is science-based. Technological change will continue to affect the quantity and quality of jobs in many ways. Substantial occupational shifts can be expected. A good preparation in basic education and particularly in science and mathematics is therefore critical. Education, train- ing, and retraining both in schools and on the job should be viewed as life-long activities, because changing employment conditions will increasingly require flexibility on the part of workers. The current rate of technological change and its diffusion throughout the economy is difficult to evaluate, but there is little evidence that it is faster today than in the recent past. The nature of technological change has been trans- formed, however; more than ever before, it is the product of systematically applied scientific knowledge. Advances in scientific knowledge continually generate the potential for new technical applications. As in the past, technological change will affect employment quality and

OCR for page 167
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 171 quantity; some jobs will disappear and others will appear; still others will be fundamentally altered. All workers should be prepared to adjust to changes in the job market. A strong, balanced, basic education is fundamental both to an individual's ability to adapt and to the economy's need for flexibility. The panel reaffirms the findings of the Panel on Secondary School Education for the Changing Workplace (Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, 1984) calling for school and parent efforts to develop sound work habits and attitudes; to prepare young women and men for participation in workplace deci- sion making; and to provide an education that includes such skills as command of the English language, reasoning and problem solving, comprehension and interpretation of written materials, accurate and clear written and oral commu- nication, computation, and basic understanding of scientific and technological principles and of social and economic phenomena. In addition, the panel be- lieves that compensatory programs for disadvantaged students in such subjects as English, mathematics, and computer skills are desirable. Women have often been disadvantaged in the skills required to compete suc- cessfully in the workplace. Schools, employers, and government programs have all contributed to this outcome; they have not always made programs equally available to both sexes. Furthermore, minority women have often not had adequate access to high-quality basic education, including scientific and technical training in school. Some women who have had access to solid educational preparation have been discouraged or barred from benefiting fully from it. Girls and their parents have often not been aware of the consequences of their educational selections. Females have usually taken fewer mathematics, science, and computing courses in high school than males; have entered less technically oriented voca- tional programs; and have been less likely to complete college-level programs in scientific and technical fields. The differences in available opportunities and the presence of structural barriers to taking advantage of opportunities have far- reaching effects for women's work lives. Once employed, women have not always had equal access to on-thejob training programs and to other training opportunities provided by employers. Employment-related training for women both provides an important resource to workers faced with job changes and contributes to employers' goals of building an experienced, flexible work force. Women's long-term attachment to the la- borforce has increased in the past several decades and, in similarjobs, women's turnover rates are equal to men's: consequently, investment in training for women is as likely to pay off as it is for men. Because of women's customarily greater dependent care duties, however, they may need additional help to man- age dependent care when education or training takes place outside normal working hours or locations. (Men who are responsible for dependent care, of course, have the same needs.)

OCR for page 167
172 COMPUTER CHIPS AND PAPER CLIPS The panel recommends that: schools provide more equal opportunities to women students and create conditions that actively encourage them to take more mathematics, science, and technical courses; employers support (for example, through tuition reimbursement) the pro- vision of both general basic education and specialized programs that are not necessarily immediately job related; employers make on-thejob training programs equally available to all workers, with appropriate help for those with dependent care responsibilities; employers provide special encouragement to women workers to partici- pate in technical education and other training that will expand their knowledge and skills; government-sponsored technical training programs also particularly en- courage women to take part and offer necessary support services for those with dependent care responsibilities; governments (especially at the state and local levels) and private organiza- tions collect and evaluate data on the availability and quality of training and retraining programs with special reference to women. They should also fund demonstration projects examining the usefulness of such programs, dissemi- nate information about successful models, and, when appropriate, provide con- tinued funding for high-quality training and retraining programs. EMPLOYMENT SECURITY AND FLEXIBILITY Technological change brings about shifts in the demand for workers in differ- ent occupations and changes in the content of their jobs. Hence, it is important, both to a business organization's economic success and to workers' employ- ment security, that both employers and workers be flexible in responding to change. Recent technological change has already made some occupations, such as tabulating machine operator, mimeographer, and keypunch operator, obsolete; employment in others, such as bookkeeping and stenography, has declined substantially; and growth in some, such as bank tellers and data-ent~y clerks, has slowed. This pattern is expected to continue. Additional, as yet unidenti- fied, jobs will disappear or be fundamentally altered, and new ones will be created. Some occupational effects may displace particular workers from par- ticular jobs. Some employers, particularly large ones, may have several alter- natives when faced with declining jobs in some areas and occupations, depend- ing on their market position, their economic and human resources, and the qualifications and flexibility of their workers: they will be able to restructure jobs and reallocate work to preserve employment. Other employers, because of

OCR for page 167
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 173 disadvantaged positions on the same variables, may be more constrained. The panel recognizes differences among employers that affect their ability to imple- ment its recommendations. It nevertheless encourages both employers and unions to take a more active role in anticipating technological change and in developing approaches that minimize employment insecurity. When employ- ment security cannot be maintained, sufficient advance notice to workers is critical. The panel recommends that: employers seek to maintain continued employment of individual workers in the face of change, even if it is not possible to guarantee continuity in their specific jobs; employers monitor the application of new technologies, the resulting po- tential job changes, and respond, to the extent possible, with policies (for ex- ample, job rotation, retraining, and assistance with geographic relocation) that provide secure employment for individual workers; unions and other worker organizations encourage worker flexibility in re- turn for employment security and explore new membership forms that do not hinder such flexibility (for example, seniority benefits that are not negatively affected by the loss of a specific job, job change, or even employer change). EXPANSION OF WOMEN'S JOB OPPORTUNITIES Although technological change is not likely to cause large declines in clerical employment, growth will slow and occupational shifts among clerical speciali- zations are likely to be significant. Women workers will be more affected by these changes because they work disproportionately in clerical jobs. Moreover, because clerical employment has provided jobs for many women entrants and reentrants over the past several decades, some new women entrants and reen- trants are likely to have to seekjobs elsewhere. Thus, the effect oftechnological change in the clerical occupations on women's general employment opportuni- ties will depend on their opportunities elsewhere. In ~particular, it will depend largely on the evolution of equal employment opportunity enforcement, eco- nomic growth, and women's qualifications. The projection provided in Chapter 3 of what the panel judges the largest plausible negative impact of information technology on clerical employment concludes that by 1995 clerical employment will have lost at most 2 percentage points of its share of total employment: 2.0 million clerical jobs, or an increase of 10.5 percent, will have been generated relative to a growth in total employ- ment of 20.4 million, or 22.2 percent. Compared with the actual growth of clerical employment between 1972 and 1982 of 4.1 million jobs, or a 29 percent increase, the "most plausible worst case" projection suggests an annual growth

OCR for page 167
174 COMPUTER CHIPS AND PAPER CLIPS rate one-third as large, 0.7 percent per year for the 1982-1995 period compared with a 2.3 percent per year growth rate for the 1972-1982 period. The growth rate in clerical jobs, in this projection, would also be about one-half the growth rate of total employment. While in the past women's concentration in clerical jobs has worked to their advantage in terms of employment growth, in the future it can be expected to work to their disadvantage. On the supply side, the rate of increase in the supply of women workers to the labor market will also slow. The number of women in the civilian labor force increased 36 percent between 1975 and 1985; the anticipated increase between 1985 and 1995 is 20 percent. Thus, while the rate of growth of clerical jobs will decline by two-thirds, the rate of growth of the female labor force is expected to decline by less than one-half. A potential oversupply is suggested. The supply of women to clerical jobs may be further reduced, however, because women can be expected to continue to train for and enter nontraditional jobs, as they have during the past 20 years and especially in the past decade. If unemploy- ment does result, however, it is not likely to be solved by an exodus of women from the labor force. Because of their increased attachment to the labor force, women, like men, will continue to seek employment. On balance, considering both supply and demand, whatever unemployment problem might result from technological change in clerical occupations should be small. The slowdown in growth of clerical jobs is likely to be smaller than often popularly imagined, for several reasons. First, the machines that capture the imagination take time to diffuse widely. Second, those machines frequently are not capable of replacing human skills to the extent their designers and adopters imagine or hope. Although some types of new clerical technologies (word pro- cessers and intelligent cash registers, for example) have diffused fairly rapidly, especially in large businesses, others (such as the fully automated workstation) are unlikely to become realities for more than a handful of workers over the next 10 years. Second, despite the growing availability of alternative technologies, the keyboard is likely to remain the dominant means of data entry. Third, net- working between systems will remain a problem that requires both technical and political regulatory solutions. Fourth, the productivity gains that are possi- ble from improvements in telecommunications and information processing will take many forms, in particular the development of new products and services and the improved quality of existing products and services; labor cost cutting is not likely to be the dominant response by employers across the economy. The employment consequences of slower job growth in clerical work also will depend on the extent to which economic growth generates opportunities in other sectors, the extent to which desegregation generates opportunities in jobs that have been male dominated, and the extent to which women have the appro- priate qualifications to benefit from these new opportunities. Although, on bal- ance, the panel does not expect widespread unemployment problems, it is con-

OCR for page 167
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 175 corned that as women's financial responsibilities for themselves and their families have increased over time, so too may the consequences of their unem- ployment be more serious. The panel recommends that: government continue to enforce equal employment opportunity legislation and related policies that enable women to find nontraditional jobs and that it continue to promote gender-equitable patterns in employment, in job training programs, and in technical, vocational, and general education programs; employers, unions, and educators actively seek to ensure opportunities for women in both nontraditional and new occupations, and, to this end, develop training programs and educational opportunities that enhance women's transfer and promotion possibilities. ADAPTIVE JOB TRANSITIONS Technological change can contribute to unemployment in several ways. A1- though our best guess is that massive unemployment problems resulting from technological change will not occur over the next 10 years, some job loss in specific categories, leading to some transitional unemployment, will occur. If economic growth is sluggish, the labor-displacing capabilities of technological change may contribute to a more serious unemployment problem. Workers are likely to need assistance in either case. Technological change inevitably involves some skill mismatch as some oc- cupations grow or emerge and others shrink or disappear. In the transition to the new types of jobs, there will be pockets of joblessness. Whether the unemploy- ment problem is transitional or becomes more severe, shifts in the demand for labor could decrease the need forlaborin several ways. Workers may be laid off from their current jobs; if voluntary turnover is sufficient, no layoffs need oc- cur, but new workers will not be hired. New entrants and reentrants to the labor market may experience difficulty in finding jobs appropriate to their qualifica- tions. And workers who voluntarily leave their jobs may experience difficulty in getting rehired. Transitional problems require solutions in their own right, even if the magni- tude of the overall unemployment problem is, as expected, not large. In most cases unemployed workers will have no continuing relationship with a previous employer. Some laid-off workers will not be able to anticipate going back to a previous job or to a new job with a former employer. Many of the unemployed will be new entrants or reentrants. Because such workers are bearing the cost of a social process (technological change and productivity improvement) that is potentially beneficial to all, public support for them is warranted. Women with

OCR for page 167
176 COMPUTER CHIPS ED PAPER CLIPS limited educational backgrounds and those located in disproportionately af- fected geographic areas are especially likely to require support. Affected male workers will also need assistance. Adaptive job transition programs for technologically unemployed workers should emphasize retraining or relocation support or both. An important com- ponent of such programs would be job search and placement aid. In modifying existing programs to meet the needs oftechnologically unemployed workers, or in developing new ones, there is a need for awareness of several issues that particularly affect women. Additional financial aid may be required for retrain- ing and transition when the only household wage earner is a female with limited financial resources and substantial family responsibilities; dependent care is likely to be an impoItant need. Women's geographic mobility may be con- strained by the potential loss of location-specific support systems; relocation services should include assistance with finding dependent care. In the case of households in which both husband and wife have been employed, geographic mobility may be limited by dual-earner considerations; job search assistance should be provided for both partners even if only one was affected by techno- logical change, in order to facilitate the adjustment of the household. And in the job search process itself, women, especially minority women, may need assis- tance in overcoming discriminatory treatment. They may not require retraining at all, but simply access to the full range of available jobs for which they have the required skills. The extent of the employment impact of technology is dependent on overall economic conditions and public policy. Obviously, employment losses due to technological change are easier to cope with if the economy is growing strongly. The cost of change, in the form of public programs or private actions, is also better managed when the economy is growing. The panel made no at- tempt to predict the economic path of the United States over the next 10 years, but its judgments about the future are implicitly based on the assumption of a modest and steady increase in aggregate output and demand. If economic growth falls off steeply, pressure for labor cost cubing may become a more significant factor in determining how new technologies are deployed. An enor- mous reservoir of unexploited productivity gains exists with the new technolo- gies. If these potential productivity gains are all deployed toward cost cutting, rather than on improving quality or introducing new products or services, the effect on employment could be severe. There are some indications that wide- spread cost cutting could occur, but, on balance, the panel believes it unlikely. Substantial unemployment could also come about for a variety of other reasons unrelated to technological change; these were not examined by the panel. The recommendations that follow are designed to deal with the job transition problems that seem most likely, but they also provide models and information that would be useful if more widespread technological unemployment than is now anticipated occurs.

OCR for page 167
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS The panel recommends that: 177 current state and federal employment programs improve their ability to deal with technological unemployment and develop new programs that pay special attention to the needs of women workers and new entrants, since they are likely to be disproportionately affected; local and state governments, employers, employer groups, women's asso- ciations, unions, and workers collaboratively plan and implement, perhaps through the Job Training Partnership Act and the Private Industry Councils, new job transition programs for technologically unemployed workers that take account of the special problems of women and families. the Women's Bureau of the U. S. . Department of Labor, or other appropri- ate office, inventory and evaluate demonstration programs that are especially effective in dealing with the unemployment of women workers that occurs because of technological change; such an inventory would contribute to the management of a more severe unemployment problem, should it occur. IDENTIFICATION AND DISSEMINATION OF GOOD TECHNOLOGICAL DESIGN AND PRACTICE For all organizations, there are better and worse practices with regard to the design, implementation, and application of technology. No single set of prac- tices is likely to be good for all organizations or for a single organization at all times. Nevertheless, the panel believes that identification of good user prac- tices with respect to information technology would contribute to the formation of higher standards overall. By "technologies" we mean both new machines (for example, a word processor) and innovations in work organization (for example, remote transcription of dictation). Alternative implementation approaches need to be identified and assessed for their effects on productivity, job quality, worker satisfaction, and so on. The design of equipment, in particular its ergonomic features (those that facilitate the use of the equipment by humans), also needs evaluation. The panel recommends that: public and private organizations systematically assess current practices in the introduction of technologies and broadly disseminate their findings; employers, manufacturers, and designers, and their representative organi- zations, as well as women's organizations, unions, and educational institutions, take an active role in identifying applications that work better than others and disseminating information about them; designers and manufacturers of equipment and employers and workers who use it share their knowledge and experiences so as to facilitate the creation of sound ergonomic standards and practices;

OCR for page 167
178 COMPUTER CHIPS AND PAPER CLIPS that governments, as major generators and users of equipment and soft- ware, facilitate information sharing and act as models to other institutions through their own adoption of good practices. WORKER PARTICIPATION There is much opportunity for choice in the design and implementation of technology. Although severe economic constraints and technical limits may be present in the early stages of a new technology or its application, more choice is generally possible in later stages. It is to the benefit of all concerned that users participate throughout the design and implementation of new technologies. Although evidence is somewhat limited for the specific case of clerical work- ers and computer-based technologies, studies elsewhere of worker participa- tion in the design and application of new equipment suggest that such participa- tion can lead to substantial productivity improvements as well as to workers who are more satisfied because they have had a role in determining the direction of change. Women may be disadvantaged in their ability to participate because of their generally lesser technical background, lower-level positions, and lack of worker organizations, but they are well qualified to participate because of their first-hand knowledge of actual practice. The effective implementation and use of new information technologies seem to require more active participation by workers at all levels. The flexibility of the new technologies makes possible many alternative organizations of work. For example, in some cases the role of supervisors and managers may be sub- stantially reduced. In workplaces where participation in a variety of decisions affecting working conditions and job quality is common, participation in deci- sions about implementation approaches is also common. Such workplaces tend to exhibit high levels of acceptance of new technologies and high levels of worker satisfaction. Although evidence that such participation directly contrib- utes to productivity increase is very scanty, the wise employer, eager to make the best use of new technologies, will involve all those likely to be affected. The importance of employment security to this cooperative process is clear; work- ers and managers will be unlikely to develop applications that eliminate their specific jobs (and presumably increase productivity) unless they believe their employment will continue in other capacities. Both workers and managers need to learn how to participate effectively in such collaborative processes. The panel recommends that: manufacturers and designers of office equipment consult users about ergo- nomic and other features and about the development of technical standards; software developers and users be collaboratively involved in installation and applications; both managers and workers take part in evaluation and feedback

OCR for page 167
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 179 to designers and manufacturers in order to promote ongoing improvement; and special attention be paid to women workers' knowledge of their jobs; employers involve everyone who will be affected by changes in equipment or work organization in the choice of system configuration and implementa- tion; employers and workers educate themselves to participate in collective de- . . . clslon ma. any. MONITORING HEALTH CONCERNS No permanent physiological damage has yet been shown to result from work with the new office technologies. Some concern about vision damage and pos- sible radiation exposure has been expressed by those who work intensively with video display terminals (VDTs). A recent report by the National Research Council (1983) found no evidence of permanent damage to the eyes from video viewing, but it did find that eye strain and body fatigue are common. These negative effects are similar to those found among people who work with details on paper, but the rate of complaint is more frequent among VDT users. These effects can be largely eliminated by the proper application of current knowledge about sound ergonomic design, the use of appropriate furniture and lighting, and job design that includes variety and challenge. Despite good overall prac- tices, some individual workers will experience clinical problems related to eye or body fatigue; these individual responses should be respected, and prudent employers should seek solutions to specific problems. If serious problems of a new sort develop (for example, if permanent health consequences emerge over a longer period), a more systematic response will be necessary. Voluntary and cooperative actions cannot substitute for government protec- tion in these circumstances. If new information technologies create demonstra- ble dangers to the health and safety of workers, present law will need to be examined to determine if it applies. New law or regulations may be required. The panel recommends that: the federal government study the feasibility of conducting prospective epi- demiological research on the health of workers exposed to VDTs (and related equipment) and fund such research if it is deemed appropriate. DATA AND RESEARCH NEEDS This report has frequently noted that currently available data are inadequate to fully understand the sources of change in the employment effects of techno- logical developments, primarily because information about technology is not linked to information about workers.

OCR for page 167
180 COMPUTER CHIPS AND PAPER CLIPS Several steps can be taken to improve the situation. First, systematic compar- ative case studies and studies of firms in various industries, or of workers in several occupations, could be undertaken. Existing national data, and even data restricted to local labor markets, simply do not and cannot include the level of detail necessary to monitor the impact of technological change in jobs. Care- ful studies need to be designed that will follow both workers and jobs over time to determine how changes in technology affect the content of specific jobs, the division of labor between jobs, the organization of particular departments within enterprises, and the organization of the enterprise itself. Only through the accumulation of such comparative studies will understanding of these pro- cesses progress. Second, the Bureau of Labor Statistics could use the results of such case studies to design special studies on the impact of technological change on the organization of work. The obvious limitation of case studies is their generaliza- bility. Once it has been determined that a particular pattern of change is occur- ring, it is important to know how widespread it is, how many and what sorts of workers it affects, what kinds of firms are affected and in what way, and so forth. To answer such questions, national or labor market surveys, designed with explicit attention to the impact of technological change on work, could be helpful. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is the appropriate unit to establish a survey program that would be conducted by the Census Bureau. Such an ar- rangement would maximize the probability that data will be collected fre- quently from a representative sample of U.S. firms and workers. It might even be possible to develop a periodic survey instrument that tracks technological changes in firms and relates them to the employment characteristics of workers in the affected firms. Data on such worker characteristics as sex, race, ethnic- ity, and age should be collected because of likely differential effects. Because employers and workers may experience technological change differently, ex- ploring survey instruments that query matched employer-employee "pairs" may be worthwhile. A less ambitious but useful survey instrument is the Quality of Employment Survey. It is a survey of a national sample of workers that has been administered three times; the Department of Labor is currently considering the possibility of conducting it again in 1986. Adding questions about workers' experiences with specific sorts of technological changes, their access to training programs, their attitudes toward and use of new equipment, the extent of their involvement in decision making, and so on would probably generate some useful data. Which- ever survey option is adopted, racial and ethnic minorities should be oversam- pled, and age cohorts should be large enough to permit valid comparisons across groups. Such studies and surveys will make possible improved under- standing of the differential effects of technological change. (A fuller discussion

OCR for page 167
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 181 of research and data needs can be found in the panel's interim report, Hunt and Hunt, 1985b.) The panel recommends that government agencies support or conduct: case study research that systematically examines the employment impact of technological change in many occupations and industries; survey research, of a specific type of change, of a representative sample of firms (both employers and workers), to improve the ability to generalize about the effects of technological change; systematic research about the effects of technological change on the qual- ity of work life and other human consequences of alternative applications of technology. Such studies should also examine the effects of alternative imple- mentation approaches on productivity gains and the effects of worker participa- tion in decision making; a comparative perspective would be especially useful for this subject. EPILOGUE During the past several years substantial structural changes have occurred in economic activity; the use of new information technologies has both contrib- uted to these changes and been influenced by them. Employers and workers have had to cope with this period of change, and as the process continues to unfold, they will continue to do so. If all the panel's recommendations were adopted, workers and employers would benefit from effective implementation of new technologies and supportive government programs to assist with job transitions. The recommendations point to the relationships that exist between and among employers, workers, educational institutions, women's groups, equipment designers, manufacturers, and vendors. All these groups share sig- nificant interests in solving problems linked to technological change, although the distributive impact of costs, benefits, and possible solutions varies among and between them. It must be noted, however, that the recommendations will not ensure sound economic performance and employment equity for women, no matter how broad the participation. The current period is one of economic uncertainty. In focusing on technological change, the panel has not addressed many policy issues that affect the economic future. Similarly, women's employment pros- pects are affected by much more than technological change and the policies discussed here that mitigate its worst or enhance its best effects. This period of transition can, however, prove a catalyst in addressing the broader issues, since, as we have seen, it is easier to adjust to technological change if economic growth is healthy and if affected workers have access to all parts of the econ-

OCR for page 167
182 omy. The healthier the economy, the better the status of women workers, the more likely it is that the current period of transition will be negotiated success- fully by industry and by women workers. The panel believes that its recommen- dations provide a means of dealing effectively with the particular opportunities and problems that technological change poses for women workers. In its exami- nation of the context in which technological change takes place and in which women work, this report may also suggest a broader consideration of economic and women's issues. COMPUTER CHIPS AND PAPER CLIPS