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May 1995, Vol. 118, No. 5
Lauri J. Bassi
P ervasive foreign encroachment on markets that have historically been U.S. dominated, and falling real wages have led some workplace analysts to conclude that inadequacies in education have caused a decline in the quality of the U.S. work force.1 As a result, public policy focuses increasingly on life-long learning. However, other analysts suggest that little will be accomplished if workers learn new skills, and go back to the same jobs that they held before. They conclude that it is not only the workers who must change, but that the jobs must change also. According to this reasoning , the full benefits of skill upgrading will not be captured unless worker education is accompanied by the reorganization of work.2
There is no research that either confirms or refutes the hypothesis that skill upgrading correlates with worker education and reorganization of work. In fact, there is little research on either workplace education or the reorganization of work, and even less on how the two relate to one another. This article provides results from surveys conducted in 1992 on the incidence of workplace strategies implemented in manufacturing and nonmanufacturing firms. In particular, the research answers the following questions:
For this research, workplace education includes any program that provides instruction for hourly workers-separate from regular job activities-in one or more of the following: reading, writing, mathematics, speaking and understanding English, preparation for the general equivalency degree (GED), problem solving, or development of interpersonal skills.
Reorganization of the workplace includes changes in the nature of work or compensation for employees that are intended to boost productivity and profits. The specific changes could involve: implementing work teams or quality circles, implementing total quality management or maintenance, introducing profit-sharing or gain-sharing, reducing management layers or oversight, increasing responsibility for all workers (empowerment), integrating quality control into production, implementing just-in-time production3 or computer integrated production, and increasing training.4
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1 John H. Bishop, "Is the Test Score Decline Responsible for the Productivity Growth Decline?" American Economic Review, March 1989, pp.178-97
2 Adam Seitchik, Employer Strategies for a Changing labor Force: A Primer on Innovative Programs and Policies (Washington, DC. national Commission for Employment Policy, 1990) and Anthony Carnavale, America in the New Economy (San Francisco, Jossy-Bass publishers, 1991)
3 "Just-in-time production" refers to production techniques that reduce inventory costs by relying on minimal inventory; parts arrive as they are needed.
4 Training refers to job-specific skills, whereas workplace education refers to more general skills. the training could either be on-the -job or classroom training.
Improving workplace performance: historical and theoretical contexts. May 1995.
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