Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Changing Occupational Roles in Audit Society-The Case of Swedish Student Aid Officials

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Changing Occupational Roles in Audit Society-The Case of Swedish Student Aid Officials

Article excerpt

Introduction

The extensive proliferation of changes and reforms in recent decades concerning the mission and the governance of public service work has led to comprehensive research about consequences for different occupational groups in the sector (e.g. Barton 2008, Bejerot & Hasselbladh 2003, Bezes et al. 2012, Evans 2010, Evetts 2009). Much research about how new principles for governance affect occupational roles has focused on professional or semi-professional groups, such as doctors, nurses, teachers, and social workers (Dahl 2009, Höjer & Forkby 2010, Stenlås 2011). Empirical research about how different ?non-professional' public service occupations are exposed to this managerial shift is not as developed. This article is about a non-professional group of Street Level Bureaucrats (SLBs). I will describe and analyze changes in their occupational role-in their discretional space and working conditions under the impact of changed ways to manage public service organizations and new information and communication technology (ICT). The empirical case is student aid officials working at the Swedish Board for Study Support (SBSS).

Financial support (grants and loans) for higher education is administered by one single public authority in Sweden-the SBSS. Almost a million people received economic support from SBSS in 2011, and the authority holds repayment claims on people who have gone through higher education totaling about 30 billion US dollars. SBSS has around 1000 employees. The vast majority of these belong to the group studied here. As SLBs these officials handle inquiries and make decisions about support, loans, and repayment in individual cases on a daily basis. This requires a certain amount of personal discretion to make judgments and take action concerning, and in interaction with individual clients (Lipsky 1980).

SBSS, originally a product of a social-democratic welfare regime for improved access to higher education, despite social class origin has gone through several changes in the last decades. The theoretical point of departure in this article is that the occupational roles of public service employees of today first and foremost have to be understood in relation to three developmental processes on institutional-level working in interaction. The first one is about changes in the welfare regime concerning the commission for authorities and their underlying political values. In later decades there has been a gradual but clearly visible shift here toward a stronger emphasis on economic values, i.e., efficiency and control of the expenditure of tax revenues (Power 1997). The second process concerns changes in how authorities are governed, changes usually assigned to the umbrella doctrine of New Public Management (NPM; Hood 1991, 1995). This has meant implementation of managerial tools based on two sometimes contradictory logics: the bureaucracy and the market, e.g., increased strictness in rule-following vs. service and flexibility toward the ?customer' (Christensen & Laegreid 2001). The third process concerns the far-reaching implementation of new ICT.1 ICT may be used for job enrichment and increased self-control for employees as well as standardization and increased managerial control of work performance. The task here is how it is used in relation to the other two processes, and how it does affect the occupational role of the officials studied. This case study of SBSS officials may be an illustrative example of how such a reciprocal interaction between developments on different institutional levels drives today's development of the public sector. We may expect them to be quite similar to those confronting bigger SLB groups, such as officials at the Swedish Social Insurance Agency and the Swedish Employment Agency (cf. Melander 2013). The fact that SBSS officials are a relatively small group employed by one and the same agency may make changes more apparent and easy to view as a whole compared to studying bigger and more spread-out groups. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.