ments seem reasonably widespread. Although these developments are occurring unevenly across industries and although one can surely find within any particular industry instances to the contrary, compared with the past an increasing number of blue-collar jobs seem (a) to offer workers more autonomy and control over their work processes, (b) cover a wide range of tasks, (c) demand more interpersonal skill, and (d) possibly have become more analytic if not cognitively complex. The adoption of lean production techniques, the growing acceptance of team-based work systems, and the spread of computer-integrated manufacturing technologies appear to be primarily responsible for these changes in the content of blue-collar jobs. Of these various developments, the least well-documented concerns the implications of computer-integrated manufacturing systems for analytic skills. In particular, we don't know whether the increasing importance of symbolically mediated work is confined to particular types of jobs or whether it is associated with specific types of production systems. We do know that the best evidence for the increasing analytic complexity of blue-collar work comes from studies of computerized control systems in continuous process industries: steel, chemicals, and paper manufacturing.

Developments in the content of service work are far less consistent. For instance, studies of service work sometimes indicate a reduction in autonomy and control, less cognitively complex tasks, a narrowing of task scope and more routinized and scripted interpersonal interactions. Other studies indicate precisely the reverse. Our sense is that this variance is not an artifact of the studies that have been published, but an accurate reflection of what is happening in the service industries. Although social scientists have long studied clerical work, few other service occupations have attracted the attention of researchers until recent years. As a result, our ability to differentiate between types of service work is poorly developed. If nothing else, recent research indicates the utility of developing more grounded concepts for conceptualizing different types of service work. Researchers have shown that the ability to make even rudimentary distinctions, such as a typology of customers or the difference between relational and transactional interactions, greatly improves the ability to identify trends, at least within subsets of service work.

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