Compare and Contrast
The two texts under review, “Change at work” by Capelli et al (1997), and “The end of work” by Rifkin (2000) share certain similarities in terms of themes that the authors brings fort. They also differ significantly on certain areas. The premise of the current essay is to examine how the two texts differ and are similar to each other.
In both texts, there are some shared similarities. The evident similarity between the two texts has been the ability by the different authors to show how technology has increased productivity and at the same time resulted to the loss of jobs. For example, in Rifkin 4.3 million jobs were lost in 1985-1989; while in Cappelli et al. (1997) noted that over 2.5 million jobs were lost in 1929s. Therefore, in spite of the setbacks caused by the use of technology, it is imperative to note that technology is a necessary evil that continues to change production and the labour markets. In addition, they have acknowledged that there has been rise of employees’ union such as trade unions. For example, Cappelli et al. (1997) has contended that union workers have emerged as part of countering unemployment and downsizing.
Similarly, Rifkin has noted that democratic organizations have emerged that play an important role in the labour market. In both texts, it has been acknowledged that activists have emerged that campaign for both employees and investors. Lastly, it is acknowledged in Cappelli et al. (1997) that both lower-level managers and mid-level managers are both affected by changes in the labour market such as effects of technology and automation as well as downsizing of employees. The effects in the labour market as a result of changes include unemployment, layoffs, decline in wages, and higher stress levels. Others include deterioration of employer-employee relationship.
The issue of employment restructuring is also a common theme to both books. In the case of Rifkin (2000), technological advancement or automation has rendered certain jobs obsolete. For example, the adoption of computer systems for placing orders in the service industry has rendered certain jobs obsolete. Downsizing at both retail and wholesale establishments has also been impacted on by automation, following the adoption of automated retrieval and storage systems. Electronic receptionists have also replaced receptionists. There has also been a change in the working environment, with an increasingly larger number of firms’ embracing the concept of telecommuting, in order to take advantage of advances in information communication technology (ICT). This has in effect seen productivity go up, while there has been a reduction in the office space needed. The increased use of machines in the production process has also meant that less human labour is required, for example, a lot more manufacturing firms are installing robots in their assembly lines. These signs points towards a reduction in global labour force.
In the case of Cappelli et al., (1997) the creation of policies and laws such as the Civil Rights Act, FLSA and ADA that were initially thought to protect workers ended up hurting them. Financial restructuring of firms has also led to leveraged buyouts or acquisitions on condition that they cut costs and increase profitability. Consequently, workers’ wages suffer. Increased popularity of stock pressures and institutional investors have also increased the pressure for takeovers.
Cappelli et al. (1997) have also tackled the issue of job insecurity and downsizing. Downsizings have affected mainly the retail and service sectors, while the educated, older workers, as well as white collar workers have also not been spared. This downsizing has been occasioned by the adoption of corporate policies of adjustment in which firms have endeavoured to reduce employees’ working hours, frozen recruitment of new employees, and implemented job sharing. There has also been a promotion of retraining of employee amid a rise in contingent employment.
Rifkin (2000) has also noted that the retail and wholesale sectors have been hard hit by downsizing of jobs due to adoption of automated technology. Other firms have been forced to outsource certain jobs overseas where labour is cheaper, in a bid to reduce their operating expenses and hence remain profitable. This is especially the case with blue collar jobs. However, such “knowledge workers” as designers and engineers have seen their power and wages increase, while the adoption of high-tech has seen most company CEOs earn more because the shareholders expect them to ensure the business increases its profitability.
The two texts differ in terms of how they have approached certain issues. For example, Capelli et al have examined various techniques of downsizing such as workforce reduction, redesigning the organisation, or systemic, with systemic and organisation redesign being seen as the most effective strategies., though they are harder to implement, not to mention that they take longer to execute. On the other hand, Rifkin (2000) explores how newer technologies have replaced older ones, in effect rendering them obsolete. Also the rise of automation has rendered human labour unnecessary. These different fundamentals between the books are needed because they provide an understanding of the issues raised related to downsizing and the effects of newer technologies.
In terms of work systems, Cappelli et al., (1997) offer a comparison of the traditional work system with the new work system. The traditional system is characterised by high level of supervision, division of labour, and supervisors had a lot of say in decision making, while there was limited participation of workers in decision making. On the other hand, in the new work system, workers are empowered because of their increased responsibilities and role in decision making.
Rifkin (2000) compares the hierarchical corporation model with the cooperative team approach. He notes the hierarchical model is characterised by management having to make all the decisions. Since the model has a top-down approach of management, this often causes high tension between workers and the management. In contrast, in the cooperative team approach, decisions are made by a multi-skilled team whereby workers are trained to undertake multiple activities. There are also no tensions between workers and the management, owing to the existence of an egalitarian atmosphere. Another strength with the text by Rifkin (2000), is the ability to show that both white-collar workers and middle managers are laid-off. Nonetheless, “knowledge workers” like engineers and designers’ wages increase, when labour power diminishes.
In the text by Cappelli et al., (1997), the article explores the trickle-down technology from the 1920s to the modern time. For instance, they have showed that as a result of technology, productivity rose by 40 per cent in between 1920 and 1927. Nonetheless, more than 2.5 million jobs were lost. In Rifkin (2000), the article is based on changes taking place in 1980s after technology had already become part and parcel of production and resulted to employees being jobs. For instance, in between 1985 and 1989, 4.3 million people among 11.7 million who had been employed lost their jobs within a period of three years. They therefore offer and tell different post-histories although they all result to the same outcome, which is downsizing as a result of technology and corporate restructuring. The discussion of different fundamentals in both books is not problematic, but rather significance. For example, they are both based on American industry and workers, in terms of evolution and decline in global labour force.
On the issue of progression/rise of automation, Rifkin (2000), does not seem to hint at the desirability or possibility of declining labour-saving technologies. Instead, he concentrates on their effects as well as our choices for handling such effects. The author views automation rather optimistically by referring to it as “trickle-down technology” He notes, “for more than a century, the conventional economic wisdom has been that new technologies boost productivity, lower the costs of production, and increase the supply of cheap goods, which, in turn, stimulates purchasing power, expands markets, and generates more jobs” (Rifkin, 2000, p. 15). Rifkin (2000), further contends that this perspective is obsolete. He is convinced that “we are entering a new phase in world history-one in which fewer and fewer workers will be needed to produce the goods and services for the global population” (p. 16). The implication made is this case was that automation continues to replace employees and produce a lot of goods in an effective and efficient manner. Moreover, the use of technology plays an integral role in promoting productivity in organizations, which in turn lowers costs of production, resulting to an increase in the number of produced, and supplied cheap products and goods.
On certain instances, Rifkin has been rather reckless with the data that he uses to support his arguments and hence justify his position. For example, he employs increasing unemployment and increasing rates of unemployment to show that there is a reduction in the number of jobs. This, however, ought not to happen as long as there is an increase in the labour force. Crucially, Rifkin does not seem to realise that his position is not dependent on an absolute job decline, but just on an increasingly feasible reduction in the percentage of employed individuals in the population. In spite of such statistical flaws, Rifkin develops a strong argument to the effect that the rise in job insufficiencies is down to technological innovations. A key argument in support of this ideation is based on “re-engineering” in the marketplace.
In an attempt to fully exploit advances in computer technologies, organisations are being compelled to eliminate certain jobs, demand that their workforce multi-task, and compress their hierarchies. Rifkin seems as though he is recoiling from or misunderstanding the effect of his strong depiction of work as being increasingly irrelevant to production. He seems to only acknowledge the economics aspect of work and completely ignores the political aspect that is important too. Cappelli et al., (1997) book has only concentrated entirely on job insecurity and downsizing, rather than exploring other impacts linked automation. In addition, it has not showed how the low class Americans are affected by downsizing and restricting. This could have been necessary in showing the effects and how they have been affected historically.
Cappelli et al. (1997) denote a solution to the problem of downsizing in the form of job training programs and practices. This involves training of both the employer and worker, with a view to increasing productivity, earnings, and job security. They have also examined the implication of such a practice as “deskilling” of jobs. According to Cappelli et al., (1997) corporate policies are important because they ease burden in terms of promoting internal flexibility and retraining. In addition, the use of adjustment policies can be a solution to employment insecurity and downsizing. For example, they can allow hiring freezes, job sharing, and reduced hours, which are effective ways of making sure that people are not laid off. Another strength associated with Cappelli et al., (1997) is the ability to provide a list of the primary types of downsizing strategies. They include workforce reduction, systematic analyses, and organizational redesign. Moreover, the authors have highlighted some of the keys to success which are increased communication, involved employees, systematic analyses, and the implementation of change strategies in an incremental way. The authors seem to acknowledge that during any form of organizational change, communication is necessary, especially when the employees are being downsized.
The primary strength with the Rifkin’s book is based on the prediction that information technology has the capacity to eliminate jobs in different sectors such as the service, manufacturing, and agricultural sectors. In addition, the authors have traced back through the use of history to show automation affects blue-collar, wholesale, retail employees. I large organizations, corporate managers as well as knowledge workers have continued to reap the benefits linked with high-tech world economy, while the American middle class have continued to shrink.
Relevance to current times
Cappelli et al. (1997) assessment of the impact of restructuring on employees is still relevant to current times. Downsizing, in which firms seek leaner, more efficient and profitable operations inevitably, leads to firing/layoffs, thus escalating unemployment and job insecurity. Also, firms tend to outsource more, resulting in reduced wages and higher stress levels. This has in turn led to a decline in employee loyalty, as well as deterioration in employer/employee relationship. These issues as highlighted by Capelli et al accurately depict the modern-day workplace, in which increased competition both locally and internationally has compelled firms to institute tough policies meant to enable them have a competitive edge over their rivals in the market pace. Some of the strategies adopted in executing these polices including downsizing or layoff of employees, job restructuring, adoption of technology to increase productivity, mergers and acquisitions (M& A), telecommuting, and outsourcing. The text by Cappelli et al. (1997) is relevant given the changes in the labour sector in terms of job insecurity and downsizing. We continue to see a lot of companies laying off their employees. Also, it is relevance in terms of how worker and employer investment in training results to increases job security, productivity, and earnings.
Rifkin (2000), argues that advances in technology have led to increased automation of production processes in modern industries. There has also been a streamlining of industries, resulting in increased unemployment, improved productivity and efficiency through automation, and hence fewer workers are needed. Crime levels have also soared in communities characterised by high levels of unemployment. Again, these observations accurately mirrors the developments in the modern-day workplace where leading economies are recording high levels of unemployment amid increasing labour force and a rise in the quest to outsource non-core functions as firms endeavour to remain profitable. The observations in both articles have also reflected what changes have taken place in the last centuries and the spill over effects to the labour markets. For instance, in Rifkin (2000), the author has showed how the changes have resulted to new voice of democracy and the formation of organizations that address the welfare of employees. These are currently represented by trade unions and other rise of human reforms and other legal frameworks that protect employees.
Cappelli, P., Bassi, L., Katz, H., Knoke, D., Osterman, P. & Useem, M. (1997). Change at Work: How American industry and workers are coping with corporate restructuring and what workers must do to take charge of their own careers. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Rifkin, J. (2000). The end of work : the decline of the global work-force and the dawn of the post-market era. London, UK: London Penguin.