INTOUCH: Quality and Quantity

Today’s workers need to be flexible and adaptable and if they are, they’re likely to be paid more. Research into ICT and its impact on work and community shows that the skills required by workers in an age of technology appear to be in line with the current schools’ teaching where students are taught how to think alongside learning hard facts. But too many are still leaving school without those skills and that will have serious long-term consequences.
At Waikato University Management School, five-year study of ICT and its impact on work and community is coming to an end. As part of the study, researchers set out to find what skills were the most desirable in the latest phase of technological progress and what public policies would be most cost-effective in minimising higher wage inequality and its undesirable effects.
“There is increasing wage disparity in New Zealand but you cannot blame technology alone for it,” says researcher Chris Hector. “Industries that are more ICT intensive generally require staff with higher qualifications and more skills, and will pay them more, but worker characteristics have shown to be the most important factor underlying the rising skills premium, rather than anything intrinsic to the new technology. There is demand for general adaptability that is being rewarded in time of technological change.”
Hector says that from this research it would seem that greater proportion of the workforce needs to upskill to be prepared for the new working environment.
“New Zealand faces the probability that substantial numbers of workers will enjoy only minimal rewards and low job security and with that will come damaging economic and social consequences,” says Hector. “We need to see commitment from Government to ensure skill levels are raised, and the numbers of young New Zealanders entering the workforce with minimal education are reduced. At the moment, things are seriously out of balance to tackle future needs.”
The ICT impact study has been funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology and has covered information communication technology from many angles; including how the community and voluntary sector is dealing with latest ICT developments, the rural sector’s take-up of broadband and the effect ICT is having on the quality of work-life balance.
Project leader professor Ted Zorn from the Department of Management Communication says the goal has been to identify the positive and negative consequences from ICT adoption and implementation, and how to maximise the positive and minimise the negative.
“Too often we see technology as all good or all bad, but usually the consequences are more complex than that. Chris’ findings on the impacts on wages are good example of this: Some people are going to benefit more with intensive ICT adoption, but it’s not as simple as saying ‘learn more computer skills’. Rather, technology enables rapid and transformational change, so what’s more important is strong general education that enables people to adapt to the changes.”
The increase in ICT has increased work options and styles – giving people the ability to work from almost anywhere, anytime. On the surface at least, it seems this should contribute to work satisfaction and better work-life balance because of the flexibility that new technology allows.
To examine the impacts of ICT on quality of work life, Zorn and Hector, along with colleague professor John Gibson, conducted survey of 1800 New Zealanders last year. Nearly 70 percent of respondents said their workplace had undergone significant adoption of new information technology in recent years.
The workers who’d been affected by technological change were significantly more likely to say they are satisfied with their pay and their prospects for advancement and development. They were also likely to be more satisfied with the variety of tasks in their work, and with the amount of challenge.
“The principal negative effect was significant feeling of being under more pressure at work, and that new technology did not lead to more delegated authority or give workers more autonomy,” says Hector. People working on computers at home said they felt increased pressure working remotely and were less likely to be satisfied with workload and job security. “But overall, the positive effects of new technology appear to outweigh the negative.”

Copies of the full papers from the ICT study can be found at Visited 4 times, 1 visit(s) today

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