Technology to Come Will Create Major Skill Shifts: Workers Must Be Ready

Article excerpt

Economic research indicates that technology will have the greatest impact on jobs created in the future. For example, Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich sees an American workforce dividing along two lines: the new world of work where technical skills and flexibility are paramount, and the other, anchored in outdated structures and production modes.

Those with technical skills will be in demand, placing a great burden on government, education and business to help the unskilled to get skilled or face long-term joblessness.

Technology: A Matter of Economics

What are the basic economics of technology? Technology is used, along with other factor inputs to produce the goods and services of an economy. Technology is also an end product in an economy (e.g. PCs VCRs).

Technology has had the effect of lowering unit production costs over time, and high technology in U.S. manufacturing has increased the wages of technology. workers, and improved the efficiency of production. Technology as an input can help minimize production costs and improve worker output. Certain kinds of low-skilled repetitive jobs related to technology may increase such as production workers making computer circuit boards, but technology can reduce jobs because of improved efficiency and use of machines.

Fueling the Economy

Economic and policy researchers have long studied the development and diffusion of new technologies. This interest, stems from the fact that technological progress is one of the basic engines of economic growth. The Census Bureau study of over 10,000 U.S. plants found that U.S. plants adopting various advanced technologies had average hourly wages of $11.84, while plants not adopting advanced technologies had average hourly wages of $8.63.

Researchers at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, France, using information on cities from its member countries, including the U.S., Canada, Japan, and the European Community, looked at the role of cities in an international technology driven society. OECD sees cities as a central place where information is produced, used, traded and sold. OECD said this about cities:

OECD finds that there is a direct relationship between the growth in information technology (IT) and economic development. However, they also understand that increased economic activity does not translate into jobs for all citizens in a city or region. Local governments, therefore, will face an important management issue as local economic regions embrace technology in the emerging global economy: how to manage economic activity and public administration functions that crosses local political divisions? Regionalism may be a solution, along with development of regional cooperative agreements.

Some of the advanced technologies used in U.S. manufacturing plants include:

* computer-aided design/computer-aided engineering;

* numerical controllers/computer numerically controlled machines;

* computers used on the factory floor;

* Local Area Networks (LANS);

* automated sensors for materials; and * robotics and automated sensors.

New business research reported in "Fortune" magazine (April 1994), shows that companies investing in information technology may supplement labor, especially skilled labor, but does not substitute it. …