Workplace Realities

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					                                             mass of unskilled labor was used to tend      Service func-
                                             the machines. A much smaller group            tions even began
                                             of broadly skilled and broadly assigned       to dominate manu-
                                             white-collar and technical elites were        facturing where making
                                             installed at the top of large-scale organi-   products became a simple parlor
                                             zational pyramids.                            tricks and more of the value added came
                                                                                           from marketing, financing, customer
                                                                                           service and managing quality, variety,
                                             Something happened in the early 1970s.        customization, innovation, convenience,
                                             Suddenly the United States’ mass-pro-         novelty and speeded operations.
                                             duction system seemed to lose its com-            In addition, as the rest of the world
                                             petitive edge. People began to demand         dug out from the rubble of World War
        rom the Civil War until the          more than mass-produced standard-             II and began to prosper, they began to
        1970s, the United States was the     ized goods and services because often         compete with us at home and in world
        world’s most successful mass-pro-    they could afford more. Family income         markets. We are no longer insulated from
        duction economy, the very best at    doubled between 1946 and 1972 in the          head-to-head global competition. The
        producing standardized goods and     United States, and America’s economic         increasing competition and the demand
services at least cost and selling them at   “golden age” was mirrored in the rest of      for new kinds of value added have cre-
the lowest price.                            the world.                                    ated more intense, constantly escalating
   These mass-production successes              As the world got richer, the appeal        and increasingly complex competitive
required rigorous discipline and narrow      of standardized commodities and ser-          requirements. The traditional competi-
skill. Final products and services were      vices declined. Competition shifted rap-      tion based on the ability to mass pro-
broken down into their smallest repro-       idly to new kinds of value added that         duce standardized goods and services and
ducible components and rigid single-pur-     required new kinds of skill. With added       sell them at low cost has been gradually
pose machinery was built to mass-pro-        wealth consumption shifted to services        displaced by a competition based on a
duce standardized components. A large        like health care, education and media.        diverse mix of requirements and new
kinds of value added, including:                markets. In the 21st century that means       of mass production have given way to
       Productive investment. The new           every child needs some postsecondary          an explosion of choices. ABC, NBC and
knowledge economy requires constant             education or training.                        CBS were good enough in the 1950s, but
investments in human capital, technol-                 Quality. Quality is a primary stand-   nowadays there are 500 cable channels
ogy and infrastructure, and if we don’t         ard for competitive success. Busy people      and people still complain there’s nothing
invest to keep up and get ahead, our            have no time for products or services         worthwhile on TV and they need more
competitors will. The old-time religion         that don’t work for them, and they can        choices. The ability to produce variety
of cost reduction does not work in the          afford more. Quality requires lots of new     requires workers with the creativity and
knowledge economy because it tends to           skills up and down the line ranging from      problem-solving skills necessary to pro-
reduce investments in the constantly            technical competency to the ability to        vide more than one-size-fits-all products
flourishing mix of skilled employees,           take responsibility for the final product      or services.
information-based technologies and flex-         or service regardless of one’s job descrip-         Customization. One-size-fits-all stand-
ible organizational formats necessary           tion. In a quality workplace, “It’s not my    ardization has been superseded by cus-
to meet new performance standards. In           job” doesn’t cut it anymore.                  tomized goods and services from clothing
the knowledge economy, productivity is                 Variety. As competition has inten-     to health care, financial management,
pursued through constant investments in         sified, plain vanilla is no longer good       medicine and salad bars. Customiza-
the synergies between technology and            enough. To satisfy the growing diversity      tion, like variety, requires the ability to
skill that lead to institutions that are suf-   of demand in both domestic and global         be able to problem solve and empathize
ficiently robust to compete in modern            markets, the once-standardized offerings      with customer wants and needs.
       Convenience. Busy people crave             As the structure of the U.S. economy      higher-level thinking strategies to solve
convenience. Why drive anywhere or             has shifted from an industrial economy       problems. Similarly, writing on the job
stand in line when you can get what you        to a postindustrial service economy, new     often requires analysis, conceptualization,
want 24/7 on the Internet. Convenience         skill requirements have emerged. In gen-     synthesis and distillation of information
requires workers who can empathize with        eral, the demand for specific academic        and clear articulation of points and pro-
customer needs and use communication           and vocational skills has been augmented     posals. In a work environment, math
and listening skills necessary for good        with a growing need for general skills,      skills need to be contextual and rooted
old-fashioned customer service.                including learning, reasoning, communi-      in problem identification, reasoning, esti-
      Consistency. Meeting performance         cating, general problem-solving skills and   mation and problem solving.
standards some of the time is not enough.      behavioral skills.                                  Foundation skills, or knowing how
Workers require dependability and com-                                                      to learn. Learning is now a fact of life if
mitment in order to meet efficiency,                                                        workers are going to keep up with the
quality, variety, customization, conve-                                                     blur of change in modern workplaces.
nience, speed, innovation and social-                                                       Workers who have “learned how to
responsibility standards all the time.                                                      learn” can achieve competency in other
       Speed and continuous innovation.                                                     required workplace skills, but for those
Various benchmarks exist for improve-                                                       who have not, learning is not as rapid,
ments in speed or cycle time. The first                                                      nor as efficient or comprehensive.
is generating a new idea ahead of the                                                              Communication skills: Listening and
competition. But getting ideas first is                                                     oral communication. Communication is
not enough. The only way to establish                                                       central to the smooth operation of all
trust and an organizational brand name                                                      work environments. Workers spend most
with clients is by getting new ideas off                                                    of their days in some form of communica-
the drawing board and into the hands of            The new postindustrial jobs in indus-    tion. They communicate with each other
customers. Improving or expanding value        tries like business services, education,     about procedures and problems, and they
in products or services incrementally and      health care and office service require       also relay and receive information to and
continuously to stay ahead of the compe-       higher levels of interpersonal and prob-     from customers.
tition also is critical. There’s a Starbucks   lem-solving skills because the work              Effective oral communication also
on every corner for a reason.                  entails higher levels of human interac-      requires that workers have sufficient
       Social responsibility. As consumers     tion and personalized responses to peo-      self-awareness to understand how they
are given more and more goods and serv-        ple’s wants and needs.                       are perceived and what they hear. It is
ices to choose from, the values associated         These same behavioral skills are         important for workers to understand and
with a particular brand can make a com-        required in high-technology and man-         value communication approaches that are
petitive difference. Consumers who             ufacturing jobs as well because the          different in style from their own, as well
become wealthier and have more choices         technology itself takes on more of the       as adjust their style when in communica-
tend to want to satisfy more than their        rote, manual processing tasks, allowing      tion with someone who has a style that is
material needs. Customers want products        employees to spend more time interact-       different from their own. Listening skills
and services from organizations that, at       ing with each other to exploit the new       also affect the efficient transmission and
least, do not violate their values and, at     flexible technologies in order to provide     receipt of information in the workplace.
most, represent their values.                  cutting-edge value added such as qual-           Communication skills are at the heart
                                               ity, variety, customization, convenience,    of getting and keeping customers and
                                               speed and innovation.                        gathering product feedback, as well as for
The fundamental change in skill require-                                                    participating in work teams and resolving
ments in the American economic system                                                       conflicts on the job.
has been due to the shift from the indus-      Most employers today cannot compete                 Adaptability: Problem solving and
trial era to the postindustrial era of the     successfully without a workforce that can    creative thinking. An institution’s ability
knowledge economy. The new knowledge           use solid academic skills in applied set-    to achieve its strategic objectives often
economy that has emerged has replaced          tings. Increased interaction with sophis-    depends on how quickly and effectively
the rote skills of the assembly lines of       ticated computerized machinery requires      it can transcend barriers to improved
yesteryear with flexible technologies and       good technical reading skills for efficient   productivity and competitiveness. These
“high-performance work systems” that rely      use. And writing is frequently the first      pressures put problem solving and cre-
on more skilled and autonomous work-           step in communicating with customers,        ative thinking at a premium — at all
ers. In an era of flexible production and       documenting competitive transactions or      levels of an organization.
service delivery systems and more rapid        successfully moving new ideas into the           Problem solving includes the ability
economic change, workers not only need         workplace.                                   to recognize and define problems, invent
better technical preparation, they also           Employers need workers who have           and implement solutions, and track and
need sufficiently robust skills to adapt to     mastered reading processes that allow        evaluate results. Cognitive skills, group-
changing requirements on the job.              them to locate information and use           interaction skills and problem-processing
skills are all crucial to successful prob-          At its most basic level, leadership
lem solving. New approaches to problem          means that a person can influence others
solving, organizational design or product       to act in a certain way. Organizational
development all spring from the individ-        skills are the building blocks for leader-
ual capacity for creative thinking.             ship. Unaccompanied by them, leader-
        Group effectiveness: Interpersonal      ship skills can be misplaced and even
skills, negotiation and teamwork. Interper-     counterproductive. Every person may
sonal, negotiation and teamwork skills          need, at times, to lead or influence a
are basic tools for achieving the flexibil-      work group or provide a vision of what
ity and adaptability that America’s work-       the organization as a whole requires.
force must have to remain competitive.                 Personal management: Self-esteem
    The use of workplace teams to meet          and motivation/goal setting. In the past,
complex sets of standards is now com-           employers viewed workers with solid
monplace in many American businesses.           occupational-specific skills as sufficient
Change strategies also are dependent on         for success on the job. But as workers are
the ability of employees to pull together       increasingly called upon to make deci-
and refocus on the new common goal.             sions at the point of production or point
    This pooling of resources, however,         of sale and display good interpersonal
frequently requires team members to have        skills when working in teams or with
an array of skills that individual or routine   customers, the confidence that engenders
jobs do not demand. Quality teamwork            success in these areas springs from a posi-
results when team members know how              tive sense of self-worth or self-esteem.
to recognize and cope with various and              Self-esteem is at the core of many
unique personalities and when each has a        other skills required on the job. Work-        regardless of external experiences of suc-
sense of the cultures and approaches that       ers with a healthy self-esteem are able to     cess or failure. Cognitive styles are the
                                                recognize their current skills, be aware of    various ways people process information
                                                their impact on others and understand          gained from experience — positive cogni-
                                                their emotional set points and abilities to    tive styles encourage success and negative
                                                cope with stress, change and criticism on      styles encourage failure.
                                                the job. They also are able to recognize           Those with a negative cognitive style
                                                their own limits and seek new informa-         tend to see failure as a result of causes
                                                tion or assistance to solve problems and       that are permanent, pervasive and per-
                                                construct solutions.                           sonal. They tend to discount successes as
                                                    Workplace success also depends on          temporary, limited in scope and unrelated
                                                workers who are motivated and able to          to personal merit. People with a negative
                                                set and meet reasonable goals. Workers’        cognitive style tend to be less successful
                                                lack of motivation or goal-setting skills      because they cede control over the choices
                                                can produce an organizational undercur-        in their lives to their circumstances,
                                                rent of repeated errors, absenteeism and       reducing their ability to act and persevere.
                                                quality problems, or it can construct bar-     The available evidence and old-fashioned
other team members represent. Interper-         riers along the path to change. Poor per-      common sense suggest that the feelings of
sonal and negotiation skills are the cor-       formance can often be lined to deficien-        helplessness that underlie a negative cog-
nerstones of successful teamwork. Unre-         cies in self-esteem or motivation.             nitive style are a learned behavior subject
solved conflicts can sap productivity and               Resilience: Cognitive style. The        to environmental influences. If those sub-
short-circuit strategic plans.                  new, fast-paced and unforgiving global         jected to persistent negative feedback in
     Influence: Organizational effectiveness     economy results in constant change in          their interactions with the world learn to
and leadership. Both organizational effec-      skills required for specific jobs. Constant     perceive failures as permanent, pervasive
tiveness and leadership skills are essential    economic and technological change also         and personal, this can lead to learned
to successful institutions. To be effective     discourages growth in job tenure and           helplessness unless extraordinary compen-
in an organization, workers need a sense        increases the overall rate of job creation     satory support is provided.
of the cultural workings of the organiza-       and job destruction. The subtlest behav-
tion and how their actions affect orga-         ioral asset in managing school, work and
nizational and strategic objectives. At         life in the constant flux of modern times       At some point, everyone has to put an
the same time, organizational effective-        is a positive cognitive style.                 occupational point on their educational
ness requires that workers understand               The notion of “positive cognitive style”   pencil. A small share of students begins
what organizations are, why they exist          is more than self-esteem or the power of       to receive occupational preparation in
and how to navigate the social waters of        positive thinking. Self-esteem and positive    high school through vocational programs,
varying types of organizations.                 thinking are internal attitudes that persist   career academies and other applied curri-
cula. In general, with notable exceptions,
high school vocational preparation does
not provide long-lasting earnings advan-
tages. For the most part, these programs
survive as an alternative applied pedagogy
to meet statewide academic performance
standards and as an alternative prepara-
tion for further postsecondary education.
   Among those who terminate their
education with high school, most get job
training primarily on the job, although as
a general rule those with the most post-
secondary education get the most train-
ing on the job.
   For most high school students, occu-
pational preparation continues or begins
with some kind of postsecondary educa-
tion or training. A smaller share of elite
college graduates continues their gen-
eral education through the bachelor’s
degree and then gets their occupational
or professional education in graduate or
professional school. As a general rule,
those with the richest mix of educational
attainment and occupational or profes-
sional education earn the most money.
   To some extent, the increase in the
demand for both education and occu-
pational credentialing derives from the
changing relationships between employ-
ers and employees. As change accelerates
on the job, employers need better learn-
ers and cannot take the time to develop
talent from the ground up. Education
credentials increasingly are used to signal
learning potential. And when relation-
ships between employers and employees
become less stable, reliable educational
and occupational credentials become
more important in matching individual
skills to new job requirements.
   The increasing reach of economic
market competition raises educational
hiring standards. As economic markets
for goods, services and labor go from
local to regional to national to global,
skill requirements also escalate from local
to national and, ultimately, to world-
class standards. In addition, in larger
geographic markets employers are hiring
strangers, putting a premium on proven
education and occupational degrees and
certified experience.

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