Rethinking Images of Work and Occupations

To gain the full advantage of the opportunities available from new technologies and organizational forms and the changes in the characteristics of the labor force, images of work and the categories used to differentiate among jobs need updating to better reflect: (1) the diversity of the workforce, (2) the dominance of the service economy, (3) the growing role of cognition and analysis, interactions and relationships, and digital technologies in the work people do, and (4) the blurring of the traditional boundaries across which work was divided in the industrial era. The blue-collar-managerial divide in particular no longer captures what people do at work. How to adapt practices, institutions, and public policies that rely on this divide or the other outmoded images are major issues for future study and action.

Need to Study What Workers Do

Changing the images of work and going beyond abstract arguments about trends in skills requires detailed and rich description and data reported from direct experiences of workers. Thus the sociological and anthropological traditions of observing and participating in real work settings and producing detailed narratives describing the actual experiences of workers need to be encouraged, with the objective of updating perspectives on work. But to be representative, these studies must examine the full array of occupations and workers found in the labor force today. Researchers are especially limited in their ability to describe what managers do at work because it is difficult to measure. Furthermore, sociologists, industrial relations experts, anthropologists, and others continue to focus their efforts on the more easily quantifiable jobs in lower-level occupational groups. It is also important to examine ways of integrating data describing what workers and managers do from other disciplines, such as industrial and organizational psychology and human factors.

Need for a National Database on Work

Direct observation and in-depth descriptions of what workers do are necessary but not sufficient inputs to update and con-

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