Report On The Impact Of New Technology On The Workplace

by Stephen Clark

1. Synopsis

Ever since the late eighteenth century, the workplace has been going through revolutionary changes as a result of new technology being introduced. Way back in the Industrial Revolution, there was a transition from agricultural work to industrial work. This had incredibly large effects on the whole of society, as the nature of work was redefined. Now in the twentieth century, another revolution is taking place -- the Information Revolution. With machines continuing to replace human workers in agriculture, manufacturing and mining, the majority of jobs are now in the service areas. But unemployment is rising, especially among uneducated people. In the future, the number of jobs in the service areas could drop dramatically as a result of machines taking over human tasks. One possible outcome of this is that the majority of people will be unable to earn a living and therefore live in poverty, while the rich minority will have increased money and power. But it's also possible that we can develop strategies to make technology equally beneficial to all sectors of society.

The impact of technology cannot be seen to have a totally positive or totally negative effect on the workplace -- it improves the workplace for some, and makes it worse for others. The level of overall improvement depends on how the technology is applied to the workplace and how well we plan ahead to avoid potential technology-related problems.

2. Introduction

2.1 Purpose
The purpose of this report is to examine the impact of new technology in the workplace, by comparing the state of workplaces before technology to the state of workplaces with technology. By "technology", of course, I mean the use of the mechanical arts and applied sciences. By the end of this report, we should be better able to answer the question "Has technology improved the workplace, and why, or why not?"

2.2 Scope
In this report I will be including:
2.2.1. The impact of technology in the Industrial Revolution which began in the 1780s
2.2.2. The impact of technology in the modern workplace, during the current Information Revolution
2.2.3. Predictions of the possible impact of technology in the future workplace.
All these things are relevant to the report topic.

2.3 Existing Information
Many studies/reports are already published in this area, including the following:
"Sleepers, Wake!: Technology and the Future of Work" by Barry Jones, 1982, 1995
"The Impact of Technological Change on Organizations and Jobs", by Lynne Tacy and Richard Gough, 1984
"Social Implications of Technological Change" by Sol Encel, 1984
"The Impact of Microprocessors on Industry, Education and Society", by the Australian Academy of Science, 1980
"The Microelectronics Revolution", by Forester, T (ed.) 1980
The main findings of these studies/reports was that technology has had many large and far-reaching effects on the workplace and society.

2.4 Sources of Information
In writing this report I have gathered information from such sources as: text books, magazine articles and audiovisual materials.

2.5 Historical Background
This issue has been considered important for a long time because people have been observing the effects of technology on the workplace and they've been frightened that the effects are more negative than positive. Investigation of this issue is important because we need to see where society is headed with all this technology and make appropriate decisions about what to do with the technology. We are more likely to get a balanced view if we take a look at the historical events which led us to this point, and whether technology in the workplace has been a positive or negative thing for society in the past. I picked this topic because it struck me as the easiest one to research. One of the reasons for this is that it's been an important issue for such a long time, so there is a lot of stuff written about it. Technology is increasing more rapidly as time goes by, therefore the issue continues to increase in importance.

3. Findings

3.1 The Industrial Revolution
Technology had its first major impact during the Industrial Revolution, which started in Great Britain in 1780 or thereabouts, and spread slowly throughout the world. Before the Industrial Revolution, seventy-five percent to eighty-five percent of the workforce were employed in the agricultural area. This work was labour intensive and slow -- productivity was very low compared with the farms of today. People used to do all their work at home, and produced goods mainly for their own use. Weaving was a common occupation for women and the infirm, who generally stayed in the house.

3.1.1. The main features of the Industrial Revolution were the decline of agriculture as an employer and the rise of manufacturing and mining as employers. This was due to new machines being built which could increase the productivity of farms substantially, and take over tasks formally performed by humans. Early machines were driven by the steam engine -- as well as agriculture they also revolutionized textiles, mining, manufacturing and transport. All these industries became much more productive and employed greater numbers of people.

3.1.2. With machines taking over the agricultural work, employment in agriculture fell to below fifty percent. People were no longer working at home -- they were more often working in factories. In the past, working hours had been determined by the seasons, the hours of daylight, the weather, and the changing nature of tasks. But after the Industrial Revolution, working hours were much less flexible for most people. Work also became separated from other things like family life.

3.1.3. The Industrial Revolution meant a reduced standard of living for the working class in the early years. Workers were very poorly paid, and they had to work incredibly long hours (up to eighty-four hours per week) or face unemployment. Child labour was also very popular because barely any skill was required for the tasks and the children could be paid less. Working conditions were unsafe. There were no regulations for safety or working hours. However, social reformists came along later and demanded better working conditions. As time went by, working hours were gradually reduced.

3.1.4. Work was divided into many more different types of jobs. Each individual job required little skill -- much of it was just minding or operating machines in a repetitive way. What with the high volume output of factories, most skilled craftspeople were put out of business. This meant that the workforce became less skilled in general.

3.1.5. Before the Industrial Revolution, people relied on animal power to extend their capacity to work. Animals were progressively phased out as an energy source, and they were replaced by machines. The increase of mining as an employer was due to a need for fuel for these machines.

3.1.6. Another employment area that grew was the service industries -- these included things like servants, shopkeepers, and transport workers. The reason for this was that an urban middle class had been created which had a need for this sort of service where there had been none before.

3.2. The Information Revolution
In the mid twentieth century, industrial occupations such as manufacturing, mining and transport began to decline as an employer. This did not mean it became less productive; like agriculture before it, industry continued to increase in productivity while it employed fewer people. Manufacturing machines became more automated so that less human operators were needed. Instead, the majority of the workforce moved into service jobs like education, welfare, administration, and the transfer of information. This is now known as the Information Revolution.

3.2.1. Work has become more and more concerned with the generation and exchange of information.

3.2.2. There has been an expansion of occupational categories; labour has been subdivided. In some areas, at some time, white collar jobs have been broken down into small components of easily performed tasks -- this means repetitious performance of the same small set of functions and the reduction of mental labour. As in the Industrial Revolution, new information technology sometimes results in de-skilling.

3.2.3. There are fewer jobs in general -- computers can replace human workers in many cases. While there has been an increase of jobs for computer operators, technology has increased unemployment because one person can now do the work that several people used to do in the past. Businesses profit from laying off workers, because they can cut labour costs without reducing revenue.

3.2.4. Education has become more important. Without a good education, people now find it very difficult to get a job at all, let alone a secure and satisfying one. This has led to a rise in the percentage of people finishing secondary school and enrolling in tertiary education. 3.2.5. More women earn a wage now. In the industrial era, women only formed a small part of the workforce because the bulk of the jobs involved hard physical labour which was generally considered not suitable for women. However, now that the majority of jobs are service related, more and more women have joined the workforce.

3.2.6. Technology has given rise to the growth of large multinational corporations. This is because technology is especially beneficial to those who are already in a strong position, and can afford to make a large scale capital investment in the new technology. Therefore, the more an industry is affected by technology, the more it tends to be dominated by one or two large corporations.

3.2.7. Worker performance can now be more accurately assessed. For instance, businesses can measure the speed of data entry operators, and supermarkets can measure the speed of checkout cashiers because the computer keeps track of how many items pass over the bar-code scanner. Also, in large businesses worker performance is sometimes monitored by video surveillance.

3.3 Future possibilities
Technology is advancing faster every year, and its impact on the workplace is increasing dramatically. It is difficult to speculate about the future of work with things changing so fast, but we can make several irresolute predictions based on the patterns of change in the recent past.

3.3.1. Business will become more computerized -- there will be less need for paper, because messages will be sent electronically from one terminal to another. Possibly computers will become voice activated, thus reducing the use of keyboards.

3.3.2. The need for central offices will be decreased -- people will be more able to work from home or other remote locations. This is because communications technology is improving; computers will be able to be linked up over long distances, and there will be video phones so that people will be able to speak face to face without being anywhere near eachother. The trouble with this is that workers may become isolated in their homes, and personal contact is an important part of character development and personal job satisfaction.

3.3.3. Jobs in the service areas will decrease. This is because every aspect of work will become more automated -- more jobs will be taken over by computer operations which are faster, cheaper and more accurate than human workers. This will lead to a further rise in unemployment, and a possible increase in people finding other things to do besides work.

3.3.4. The importance of education will increase -- those who are unable or unwilling to pursue tertiary education will become increasingly frustrated with their lack of job prospects.

3.3.5. Large corporations will become larger and possibly wield more power than governments do. Politics and the electoral process could become increasingly irrelevant.

4. Summary

4.1. Technology has had an enormous impact on the workplace, starting from the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century. It was a time when the majority of workers turned away from agriculture and towards manufacturing and mining, as a result of the rapid advances in technology. New production methods meant greater productivity, more types of jobs, different sources of energy, and more jobs in the service area. The changes also resulted in a reduced standard of living for most workers in the early years.

4.2. In the mid 20th Century technological advances caused employment in industrial fields to decrease, whilst jobs in the service area continued to increase and diversify. We are now in the midst of an "Information Revolution", where more jobs are concerned with the generation and exchange of information. Unemployment has become a serious problem, education is more important and there are more women working. Technology has enabled large corporations to become more prominent, and employers can now measure worker performance more accurately.

4.3. Technology is likely to have an even larger impact on the workplaces of the future. It will probably result in even greater productivity and benefit for business. We could be seeing more people working from home. Meanwhile, unemployment is likely to rise as more service jobs are taken over by computers. Education will become even more important, and large corporations could become the ruling forces over society.

5. Conclusions

5.1. The positive impact
The impact of technology on the workplace has been very powerful and far-reaching. No areas of the workforce have been unaffected by the changes. On the surface it seems that technology has improved the workplace, because it makes work procedures easier, less labour-intensive and less time-consuming. This results in greater productivity and higher profits -- therefore businesses with high technology are more likely to be successful. Also, if we compare our standard of living to how it was in the pre-industrial age, most people would agree that we're generally much better off now, as a result of technology.

5.2. The ambiguous effects
In regards to unemployment, it seems that technology destroys jobs in some areas, whilst it creates jobs in other areas. The areas it creates jobs in are generally ones that are relatively unaffected by technology -- they are complementary to the technologically affected areas. However, we are now seeing a trend whereby unemployment is rising overall, because technology is enabling businesses to function with less staff. Another ambiguous effect of technology is that it increases the importance of education, by raising the skill level needed to find employment, but it makes old skills obsolete and unnecessary because machines can now take over the tasks that humans used to do.

5.3. The balance between positive and negative
Overall, technology has the most positive impact for people who own and/or run large businesses, and it has the most negative impact for people who lose their jobs and/or find themselves unemployable as a result of technology .The future impact of technology could well be positive or negative, depending on our attitude to it and how we apply technology to the workplace.

6. Recommendations

6.1. Technology can have an undesirable effect on individual workplaces if it is not applied correctly. Businesses need to:
6.1.1. Do a thorough analysis of their existing problems to determine whether the introduction of new technology would be beneficial.

6.1.2. Do thorough research about the available technology to determine what particular piece(s) of technology would be beneficial to the workplace.

6.1.3. Discuss the introduction of new technology with all personnel that would be affected by the changes, take note of any potential problems that they can foresee and find ways to resolve them.

6.1.4. Arrange appropriate training of staff so that they can use the new technology confidently.

6.1.5. Analyze the effect the new technology has on productivity and working methods, after it has been installed.

6.1.6. Continue to get feedback from all personnel affected by the changes.

6.2. Technology can have an undesirable effect on the working world as a whole unless all levels of government develop broad policies to ensure that technological change does not result in widening social divisions. Those in power need to:
6.2.1. Provide working class children with the same opportunities to undertake education as upper and middle class children have, by increasing public expenditure on education in disadvantaged areas.

6.2.2. Ensure that unemployed people are provided with a sufficient income to live off, including those who refuse to take jobs that they do not want.

6.2.3. Work towards guaranteeing the right to work, for everyone who is willing and able to work

6.2.4. Guarantee maximum superannuation benefits for workers who retire early, thus increasing job opportunities for others.

6.2.5. Increase expenditure on job creation schemes in the short term, in the services field, in order to raise self-esteem of young people and prevent them from getting into destructive lifestyles.

6.2.6. Devise budgetary strategies to ensure that gains from technological innovation are shared to maximize benefits in the community, instead of benefits being restricted to owners of technology.

6.2.7. Ensure that everyone has equal access to free information in libraries and other such information centres, regardless of where they live, thus reducing the gap between the "information rich" and the "information poor".

7. Bibliography

Class notes in NCS015, Report Writing

Images of the Industrial Revolution (videocassette) -- Video In Education Worldwide

Jones, Barry, Sleepers, Wake!, Oxford University Press, 1983 and 1995

Lansbury, Russell D and Davis, Edward M., Technology, Work and Industrial Relations, Longman Cheshire 1984

National Information Technology Council, Technological Change -- Impact of Information Technology 1986

Wayner, Peter, "How Microchips Shook Up the World (Microprocessors at 25)", in Byte, Dec. 1996