by managers and, therefore, to have low levels of autonomy and control over their work. The distinction arises out of the presumption that those who conceive how work is to be done can be separated from those who execute the work. Those who "execute" are, of course, the blue-collar workers. Frederick Taylor's scientific management methods elevated this distinction to a normative principle: conception should be separated from execution in order to organize work efficiently and reward workers in ways that satisfy their economic needs. Not surprisingly, this principle has been the subject of debate since it was first enunciated. How much control over work-related decisions is delegated to those doing the work has become an especially important part of job and organizational design decisions, as some firms restructure and move decision making down to lower levels, while others centralize it further with the aid of digital control technologies.

Scientific management also emphasized the scope of blue-collar work by stressing the importance of segmenting work into clearly defined tasks that formed discrete jobs requiring narrow skills. This approach to job design fit well with the growing mass markets and need for standardization associated with the factory system. The design of jobs was perceived largely as an engineering task aimed at producing mainly physical results (the number of boxcars loaded; the number of parts cut, polished, or painted).

The Changing Nature of Blue-Collar Work

The types of organizational restructuring discussed in Chapter 3 are challenging traditional principles for the design of blue-collar jobs. Blue-collar production work in many firms is expanding to include more decision-making tasks that in the past would have been part of a supervisory or managerial job. This, more than anything else, makes the term "blue-collar work" or "blue-collar workforce" less useful as an analytical or practical tool. Moreover, for some production workers, narrow job definitions are giving way to broader involvement in work teams and interactions with external customers, clients, and patients.

Part of our understanding of the changing nature of blue-collar work builds on research concerning the adoption of "high-involvement" or "high-performance" work systems. The basic

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