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we can summarize with some confidence how this type of work has changed. The autonomy of blue-collar workers has increased to include decisions over process and quality control, formerly the purview of supervisors, in settings in which team organization is practiced. In some cases, new technologies have given blue-collar workers discretion, for example when a data interface rather than a supervisor gives instructions. Worker autonomy, when it occurs, is limited to task autonomy and not strategic autonomy—how to perform work rather than determining the work to be performed.
Not all blue-collar workers have increased discretion, not even all workers organized in teams, as the character of the team makes a difference (Bailyn, 1993). Nor do all workers appreciate increased discretion. Some researchers have found, for example, that work organized in teams may substitute one type of explicit control structure for conformance to more implicit behavioral norms that also limit individual autonomy and discretion (e.g., Barker, 1993).
Job redesign, team structures, and computer-integrated manufacturing have broadened the task scope of much blue-collar work. There has been a clear reduction in the number of job categories and the combining of jobs. For example, workers in self-directed teams often interact with customers and take and track orders, as well as produce the product or service. New technologies have eroded the distinction between some traditional craft boundaries, too. For example, repairs of mechanical equipment may now have electrical and electronic components, with a single person making both types of repairs. The increase in the range of tasks performed by blue-collar workers does not mean, however, that they demand greater skill or increased cognitive complexity.
Craft work has always had high levels of cognitive complexity, but some other blue-collar jobs are increasing in their analytic content. Total quality management programs often include the mastery of productivity modeling, flow charts, and statistical analysis of the production process by the work team, but this varies substantially from setting to setting. More generally, there has been an increase in analytic forms of work at the expense of manual labor.