Status of Labor, Jobs to Change in 1990s

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Feature Editor Another Labor Day is approaching - the 96th since the day became a holiday to honor the American worker.

Laboring and the jobs at which each worker labors is an integral part of his or her life. Work represents status, identity, self-esteem and a pay check traded for the fruits of the worker's labors.

Oklahoma economists and labor experts generally agree that the status of labor and jobs in the 1990s will be much different than the 1980s.

Times are changing, tools are changing and job standards are changing quickly on almost every job in today's work place.

Views on the status of labor in the 1990s were solicited from Dr. Larkin Warner, regents professor of economics at Oklahoma State University; Craig Knutson, economist for Southwestern Bell Telephone Co.; David Carnevale, professor of public administration at the University of Oklahoma and former 14-year veteran union executive; Chalmers Labig, associate professor of management at Oklahoma State University; Ross Williams, president of the Oklahoma AFL-CIO Union; Dr. Ray Alonso, professor of strategic management at University of Oklahoma; and Will Bowman, research specialist with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

Labor challenges of the 1990s - Key challenges in the 1990s are predicted to be:

- Providing enough quality jobs in Oklahoma.

- Increasing productivity to be competitive on both a national and international level.

- Education of workers to keep stride with technology.

"Whether you are talking about unions or management, the key is going to be high productivity - watch your P's and Q's," said Knutson.

"Organized labor will not be growing in the 1990s. If you are not going to increase your productivity, you are not going to be able to compete. Education and OJT (on the job training) are going to be very important.

"It is going to be imperative in the '90s that you are going to have to be terribly articulate and terribly literate just to follow the instructions," he said. "I don't believe in high tech jobs. I believe every job has high tech in it. Everyone is going to have to be articulate and literate enough to operate those tools.

"The decade of the '90s is going to be very competitive. What we are competing against is a terribly well educated world population - our business population is well educated, that is."

Knutson noted that the Hispanic and Black growth rates into the work force "are going to be two to four times the rates of whites."

"Education is absolutely paramount to achieving that goal of productivity and quality," he said. "We've got a large group entering the force in the '90s that historically have not had high education achievement levels and that could cause problems in the 90s."

"The biggest challenge is to have an economy that is creating enough jobs so we don't have a population decline," Warner said.

Williams said he considered labor's challenge "the same thing as that of the chamber of commerce - to bring jobs to Oklahoma - quality jobs. What needs to happen for that to take place is what's been in the press lately - that we have quality education in Oklahoma."

"We need to have decent workers compensation benefits and unemployment benefits - most people unemployed never qualify for it," he said. "We need a better system to take care of those that lose their jobs."

Bowman said workers must be prepared to adjust to changing jobs.

"The challenges will be finding employment and obtaining the necessary training to keep up with technology," he said. "The working public will have to expect to have changing careers more often and upgrade training more often. Workers unemployed, for whatever reason, will have to go into other fields, which of course, will require other training. …