Reading2.Changing work organisation and skill

Reading2.Changing work organisation and skill - ABL Vol 35...

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393 ABL Vol 35 No 3 2009 Context How work is organised is one of the most important factors in determining what skills workers need to do their jobs successfully. Many analysts have argued that recent decades have seen the beginnings of a revolution in work organisation, a revolution that continues and will have ever widening effects in the workforce. No longer will workers be successful if they are able only to complete one small unchanging set of tasks in a workplace that puts together the work of many to produce goods or services. Instead, they will need to be far more flexible, able to fit productively into teams that are formed for specific work tasks or projects that may only be performed once. They will need a new range of skills to negotiate the new, much more changeable, communication-rich and customer-focused world of work. These broad images of change have been expressed in a myriad of ways, with a variety of emphases. They have become almost an article of faith when talking about the likely future of work and skill requirements, often providing the context for various claims. To take one example, a recent NCVER collection on ‘generic skills’ begins with the assertion that: In today’s economy, knowledge, information, customer service, innovation and high performance are at a premium and generic skills are essential…[for workers] (Gibb and Curtin, 2004, p.7). The implication is clear: ‘today’s economy’ is different from yesterday’s, and so are the kinds of skills it demands of workers. The purposes of this paper are to take Changing Work Organisation and Skill Requirements Bill Martin and Josh Healy* Contributed Article * National Institute of Labour Studies, Flinders University
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394 Australian Bulletin of Labour stock of existing research on how work organisation has actually been changing in Australia during the past decade or so and to consider the implications that any change has for shifts in skill demand. We begin by reviewing the main features of the most coherent arguments about why work organisation has been changing, and how it has been changing. We draw out the implications of these arguments for changes in skill requirements. Much of our focus is on the often claimed rise of sets of work and employment practices that are usually called ‘High Performance Work Systems’ (HPWS). There has been some research focus on these arrangements, and, though there is little consensus about their exact contours, they represent the main strands of most arguments suggesting a rising set of skill demands on workers. We also briefly consider other views about key forms of workplace change, noting that some analysts have a much more sceptical position than advocates of HPWSs. The main contribution of this paper is to bring together all the case studies of work organisation and workplace change in Australian workplaces during the past decade, using these to assess exactly what we do and do not know about such change and its effects on skill requirements. Before analysing the case studies
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