argument in this literature is that blue-collar work structures are changing because the highly specialized division of labor that supported cost minimization in mass production is no longer compatible with current markets. Under the logic of mass production, which emphasized quantity over quality, work was divided into individualized, repetitive jobs that required low discretion and skill. Today's markets demand competitiveness on the basis of quality, innovation, and customization (Piore and Sabel, 1984; Appelbaum and Batt, 1994).

Under the logic of high-involvement systems, quality and innovation result from work designed to utilize high skills, discretion, and the participation of front line workers in operational decision making. Human resource practices such as training, performance-based pay, and employment security provide complementary incentives for participation (Ledford et al., 1992; Osterman, 1994; Kochan and Osterman, 1994). A central hypothesis in this literature is that work structures are part of a larger internal labor market system or set of complementary work and human resource practices (Milgrom and Roberts, 1992). Thus, the content of work must be analyzed as part of this larger system in order to understand how work structures affect outcomes of critical interest to different stakeholders. This point will feature prominently not only in this section on blue-collar work but also in discussion throughout this chapter.

Effects of Teams on Skills and Work Content

At the heart of the movement to high-performance work systems lies the growing emphasis given to teamwork and work structures organized around work units or groups rather than individual jobs. The decision to implement teams affects both the degree of control delegated to nonsupervisory workers and the scope of tasks that workers are expected to perform. As such, it changes both the vertical and horizontal divisions of labor. Team-based work structures also increase cognitive complexity and the interaction requirements of blue-collar work.

A number of studies demonstrate that both cognitive and interactive skills are becoming more important in blue-collar jobs, as team-based work structures are more widely used in blue-

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