Understanding work and how it is changing is essential to all decision makers and advisors who educate and prepare people for the workplace, counsel them about career choices, assign them to jobs, and shape the organizational and institutional contexts in which people work. One source of important data used by these decision makers comes from occupational analysis and classification systems. Traditionally, occupational analysis provided a picture of the structure of work, the characteristics of jobs, and the skills and knowledge generally associated with effective job performance. All such systems reflect the historical and cultural milieu in which they were devised and thus, when work changes substantially, the conceptions of work they characterize are inevitably outdated. Unfortunately, a variety of problems arises for human resources professionals engaged in job classification, counseling, selection, and training when job descriptions do not comport with the changes occurring in the workplace.
Although there is a great deal of debate about the changing nature of work in today's society, there is also much agreement that changes have occurred and will continue to occur. A key concern is what these changes imply for the development of a responsive set of occupational analysis tools, methods, and classifications. This book examines the evidence for what is chang-
ing, the factors that are influencing the changes, and the characteristics of an occupational analysis system that provides human resources personnel with the opportunity to make effective decisions in the face of change.
The impetus for the work of the committee was the recognition by the Army that advances in approaches to occupational analysis and classification might assist personnel managers in the Army to be more responsive to changes in the military work environment and thus more effective in the selection, training, and deployment of enlisted personnel and officers. Since many of the forces influencing work in the civilian sector are also influencing work in the military—such as advances in technology, the introduction of a more diverse workforce, and the extension of missions into new areas—it seemed useful to examine trends and developments in the civilian sector as a source of guidance. A key concern was to assess the applicability of the latest developments in occupational analysis and classification technology to building an effective, flexible, forward-looking system for the Army, one that could be used to monitor changes in the nature of work and assist in the design of new jobs.
This volume presents a framework that integrates sources of occupational change with a generally accepted conceptualization of how occupational analysis reflects and affects the nature of work. It suggests that changes in the content and structure of work are shaped by environmental trends that include changes in markets, technologies, and workforce demographics. Although these forces sometimes affect the content and structure of work directly, they also have indirect effects insofar as they create pressures for organizational restructuring and change in employment relationships. The content and structure of work, in turn, both dictate the kinds of knowledge, skills, and abilities that employees are likely to require and also affect important outcomes, such as the quantity, quality, and efficiency of work; the performance of organizations; and the psychological, social, and economic rewards people achieve through work.
Work structures and occupations are also shaped by the tools and systems of occupational analysis that are used to describe and measure the structure and content of work and to design jobs. To be useful, these systems must be updated frequently enough
to keep up with the pace of change in how work is being structured. Moreover, given advances in the technologies available for displaying and communicating how alternative tasks might be combined, the committee believes that it may be possible for these systems to become more forward-looking and serve as analytic aids to decision makers. Without an occupational analysis system that can detect changes in the structure and content of work, it will be difficult to know whether work is changing until the change is complete, at which point attempts to fashion the change are moot.
The committee's major conclusions regarding debates about jobs and work, implications for occupational analysis, the Army, future research directions, and policy follow. A detailed discussion of these conclusions, including a summary of key findings, is presented in Chapter 7.
Four themes emerged from the committee's analysis. Three concern increasing heterogeneity of workers, work, and the workplace, and the fourth focuses on the need for a systematic approach to understanding how work is changing. First, the workforce is becoming more diverse with respect to gender, race, education, and immigrant status; these changes appear to have resulted in greater heterogeneity within traditional occupational categories. Second, the boundaries between who performs which jobs and the employment outcomes and experiences of individuals working in different occupations are becoming more fluid. The evidence suggests that both military and civilian organizations are using a wider variety of workers and skills to accomplish their goals. Third, the range of choices around how work is structured appears to be increasing, and these decisions are interdependent. The fourth and final theme flows from this interdependency. The notion that decision makers' responses to changing markets, demographics, and technologies, the human resource policies and systems employed in organizations, and the work structures and outcomes they produce for organizations are interrelated leads to the need for an integrated, systematic approach to understanding how the context of work is changing and the implications of these changes.
Broader Debates About Jobs and Work
Singular Trends Versus Constrained Choices
The evidence cautions against making definitive statements about unidirectional trends in the nature of work. Instead, we see increased variance within occupations and multiple options for shaping jobs and for grouping them into occupations. These findings suggest that the future of jobs will not be determined solely by the forces of technology, demographics, or markets but by the interaction of these forces with the strategies, missions, organizational structures, and employment policies that decision makers implement in specific settings. Thus, choice remains important even when options are constrained by external events and when consequences for organizations, individuals, and society are imperfectly predictable.
The End of Jobs?
Nothing in the data examined by the committee supports the conclusion that all the changes in today's workplace add up to "the end of jobs" in any sense of this term. The conditions and content of work are certainly changing in sometimes dramatic ways, but the vast majority of people in America who want or need to work remain employed. Employment, labor force participation rates, and hours of work have either increased or remained stable in recent years. There is no compelling evidence to suggest that this will change in the future. Moreover, the history of technology repeatedly shows that, even when large numbers of individual workers are driven from particular jobs as a result of a shift in the demand for labor, aggregate demand for workers does not decline because of technical change.
A Transformation of Work?
Taken alone, none of the changes or trends discussed in this book constitutes anything that could be characterized as a transformation of work. But when combined, as seen in some settings, these changes may lead to new conditions and to possibilities that
some might characterize as a transformation. For example, in situations in which markets are uncertain and goals are unclear, work is likely to be more productive if it allows high discretion, flexibility, and the opportunity to work in teams to solve problems, analyze data, and negotiate over courses of action or the meaning of information.
One of our objectives has been to develop a framework that researchers, organizational decision makers, advisers, occupational analysts, and individuals can use as they experiment with designing work, occupational structures, and employment policies. The absence of a clearly articulated framework that includes the full range of forces has limited our ability to assess the combined effects of various changes on individuals, organizations, and society itself. We believe that the social and organizational implications of the combination of changes that we identified need to be examined more fully and systematically by decision makers in both the civilian and military sectors. By explicitly taking into account the full range of factors that shape how work is done, we believe that decision makers have the opportunity to develop more effective alternative work structures that could potentially meet a broad range of needs and interests.
Implications for Systems of Occupational Analysis and Classification
To adequately track the changing nature of work, occupational analysis and classification systems must take into account the attributes of the persons who perform work, the processes by which they perform it, and the outputs they produce within the dynamic economic, demographic, and technological contexts, and organizational factors that interact with all three. To achieve this objective, occupational analysis and classification systems must widen their traditional scope of attention as well as deepen their level of descriptive detail to capture both the range of relevant factors and the distinctions between jobs and occupations that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Occupational analysis systems must also be sensitive to the greater variance in how work is done within occupations today. Rather than provide a single description of a given job, an ad-
equate system for occupational analysis may need to attend to various alternatives for structuring work in a given job family as well as to the attributes and skill requirements associated with these alternatives.
Shifting from a backward-looking to a forward-looking system that will aid decision makers in designing work structures will also require occupational analysts to consider the human resource and organizational practices needed to support alternative ways of structuring work. By being flexible enough to address future changes in the context and content of work, occupational analysis and classification can contribute not only to the description of work, but also to research that interprets and predicts changes and to the work designs that anticipate those changes.
Over the last several years, the Department of Labor has been developing a system called O*NET™, a prototype for a new approach to collecting, distributing, and analyzing occupational data. In the committee's view, O*NET™ offers several important advances over prior systems in its organization of job description variables and associated data collection instruments, in its electronic databases with job incumbent and occupational analyst ratings, and in the initial technical evaluations. If fully developed and widely used by practitioners who add their own features to the system, we anticipate that it can serve the functions called for here.
- First, O*NET™ is the first available system with planned national scope that brings together the most current category and enumerative systems and the most comprehensive descriptive analytical systems and makes the data readily accessible in electronic format.
- Second, O*NET™ has a theoretically informed and initially validated content model with a more detailed set of job descriptors than other available systems.
- Third, the O*NET™ database can be accessed and used through multiple windows or modes, including entering using job titles or occupations at varying levels of hierarchical detail, but also entering at the level of work descriptors (i.e., knowledge, skills, abilities, other contextual factors). The latter window of
- access is extremely important in a world of work that is changing. It allows the analyst or user to build up inductively to the level of job or occupation, in contrast to systems that proceed deductively, starting with a job or occupational category that is anchored in the past and may not be current in its ratings or job descriptive information. O*NET™ could be developed into a decision support tool that allows analysts to compare different models for organizing work, to generate a list of complementary changes needed to support these models, and to project the consequences of these alternatives for the outcomes of central interest to different stakeholders. This feature is perhaps one of the major developments of the O*NET™ prototype.
- Fourth, O*NET™ offers a significant improvement over earlier systems, particularly ones based on the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, in the ease of conducting cross-occupational analyses and comparisons.
- Fifth, by utilizing the cross-walks supplied by the National Occupational Information Coordinating Committee, the O*NET™ system allows mapping to other major category and enumerative systems, including military occupational specialties and the Standard Occupational Category system.
Based on these advances, the committee recommends that O*NET™ should continue to be developed as a fully operational system for use in both civilian and military sectors.
Implications for the Army
The committee's review of the changes in civilian occupations and organizations was organized to provide the Army with a framework for examining its own work structures and occupational analysis systems. The Army is experiencing a number of changes in the context of work that parallel changes experienced in the private economy. We suspect that these developments will also create pressures for change in the structure and content of soldiers' work. These pressures should create opportunities for the military commanders to adjust existing work systems, should they choose to take advantage of them.
The Army's work structure is the basis for selecting, training, organizing, and managing personnel to meet mission requirements. The result of changing mission requirements has been the development of a smaller, more flexible force with a wider range of fighting skills—as well as new skills in negotiation and inter-personal interaction. The increased diversity of Army missions coupled with downsizing has led to the creation of teams composed of individuals from different work cultures with different skills. Some specific trends include:
- The workforce is becoming more diverse with a growing role for women, the increasing age of military personnel, and the more frequent use of units composed of regular Army, reservists, and civilians.
- The development and employment of advanced technology has created a demand for more highly skilled operators and technicians. It is important that the development of technology be integrated with work systems and human resource practices.
- The trend toward joint operations involving hybrid units may require the branches of the military to develop common work structures, or at least structures that can be easily meshed. New missions, particularly those that involve extensive interaction with civilians, will require new tasks; new knowledge, skills, and abilities; and new forms of organizing.
- Downsizing, in combination with advances in technology, has created pressures for soldiers in the lower ranks to share in decision making traditionally embedded in the officer ranks. Attention should be given to the implications of these new roles and for human resource managers.
Army decision makers need to see the design of jobs, work structures, and occupations as tightly linked to their changing missions, technologies, workforce demographics and family structures, and employment practices. The committee therefore recommends that Army decision makers think about the interconnections among these factors and take them into account in structuring work to meet the mission requirements and the needs of those who will be part of the Army of the future.
The Army's ability to efficiently manage its personnel, in complex and rapidly changing contexts, would be enhanced by an occupational analysis system that efficiently links workforce capabilities with mission planning and provides the structure for recruiting, training, assignment, and promotion of personnel. Such a system would contain all the information needed for such tasks as assembling a special operation in the field or for developing training requirements for a combined military occupational specialty.
Having considered the advantages of O*NET™, the committee sees that it offers promise for meeting the future occupational analysis needs of the Army. AP*NET, an adaptation of O*NET™ proposed for the Army, has several useful features, including linked readiness, occupations, and training databases that allow easy access to descriptions of training courses that teach a particular skill, to lists of soldiers who have skills and abilities relevant to a particular type of mission, and to Army jobs that have similar requirements. Also, AP*NET would be menu-driven with a user-oriented interface that allows access to data at the level of aggregation and specificity that is best suited to each application.
The committee recommends that the Army consider building a prototype of a system whose functional capabilities include those in the AP*NET concept.
Implications for Research
Need for Multidisciplinary Studies of Work
In the committee's view, cross-disciplinary collaboration is essential to future progress in the study of work and occupational analysis. However, we do not suggest that all individual studies should abandon their disciplinary focus or traditions. Instead, communication and dialogue across disciplines is needed to inform both the framing of questions and the interpretation of results from multiple disciplines.
Rethinking Images of Work and Occupations
To gain the full advantage of the opportunities available from new technologies and organizational forms and the changes in the characteristics of the labor force, images of work and the categories used to differentiate among jobs need updating to better reflect: (1) the diversity of the workforce, (2) the dominance of the service economy, (3) the growing role of cognition and analysis, interactions and relationships, and digital technologies in the work people do, and (4) the blurring of the traditional boundaries across which work was divided in the industrial era. The blue-collar-managerial divide in particular no longer captures what people do at work. How to adapt practices, institutions, and public policies that rely on this divide or the other outmoded images are major issues for future study and action.
Need to Study What Workers Do
Changing the images of work and going beyond abstract arguments about trends in skills requires detailed and rich description and data reported from direct experiences of workers. Thus the sociological and anthropological traditions of observing and participating in real work settings and producing detailed narratives describing the actual experiences of workers need to be encouraged, with the objective of updating perspectives on work. But to be representative, these studies must examine the full array of occupations and workers found in the labor force today. Researchers are especially limited in their ability to describe what managers do at work because it is difficult to measure. Furthermore, sociologists, industrial relations experts, anthropologists, and others continue to focus their efforts on the more easily quantifiable jobs in lower-level occupational groups. It is also important to examine ways of integrating data describing what workers and managers do from other disciplines, such as industrial and organizational psychology and human factors.
Need for a National Database on Work
Direct observation and in-depth descriptions of what workers do are necessary but not sufficient inputs to update and con-
tinue to monitor changes in the aggregate structures of work and the content of jobs. To do this requires a national sample representative of the labor force. This type of data collection is required both to complete the data collection and analysis needed to make O*NET™ operational and to realize its potential and to track systematically the changes in work and their consequences for organizations, individuals, and society.
Need to Study Occupational Analysis Tools as Aids to Decision Makers
The committee's vision is of a forward-looking occupational analysis system that can be used by decision makers to monitor changes in work, design new jobs, formulate effective human resources policies, and provide timely career counseling. Advances in technology that allow for the consideration of large numbers of variables in a relational database have made it possible to include information not only about jobs and skills, knowledge and abilities, but also about the organizational and environmental forces that influence work. Furthermore, it is now possible to display and combine data to develop what-if scenarios as an aid to job design. In the committee's view, the use of occupational analysis tools to shape work is an extremely important and fruitful area for research and experimentation.
Implications for Policy
Throughout this study, we note that the laws and institutions governing work and employment largely reflect their industrial-era origins. It goes well beyond the scope of this effort to suggest what changes are needed to update employment laws and institutions to better support work and employment relations today. However, this book may provide a starting point for the analysis of the role of law by presenting data on how work has changed since the basic legal framework governing employment relations was enacted.