unlikely that these trends reflect a deterministic impact of new technology . . . the general association between change and higher skill levels is likely to reflect factors such as the prevailing nature of managerial views about effective ways of enhancing employee motivation and the bargaining power of employee work groups" (1994:65) However, neither study provides evidence of a plausible alternative explanation.

After reviewing the research on changing levels of skill conducted up to the early 1990s, Spenner (1995) concluded that aggregate studies of skill, especially those that focused on changes in the occupational composition of the workforce, were more optimistic about upgrading than was the literature composed of case studies of technical change in specific occupations and organizations. These conflicting findings and methodological inconsistencies led Spenner (p. 81) to conclude that "much of what we . . . know suggests an uncertain, complicated and contradictory relationship between technological change and skill requirements of work. Technology has substantial effects on the composition and content of work . . . but these effects vary for different dimensions of skill, for different jobs, occupations, industries, and firms and for different technologies."

By focusing debate on upskilling and downskilling, this literature largely misses other important changes in the mix of skills required to take full advantage of emerging digital technologies. Moreover, this debate also fails to do justice to the interactive effects technology and work organization have on skill requirements. We have more to say about this in Chapter 4 on the content of work, especially when we review the evidence of the different approaches to technological change and their effects on performance in the automobile industry (Shimada and MacDuffie, 1987; MacDuffie, 1996).

Changes in Workforce Demographics

A third factor that influences changes in the nature of work is the changing composition of the workforce (see Figure 1.1). That is, it is unlikely that changes in the nature of work can be examined in isolation from changes in who works, as the composition of the workforce is likely to influence how work is organized and



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