CLONMEL -- I have fresh memories of friends in California on my mind, including some of the survival tactics used by middle managers I know. Their tactics make them more competitive on a global stage. Now safely back in Ireland, I wonder whether it's possible for Europeans to take on Americans in the competitiveness game. Several recent research papers and books from both sides of the Atlantic suggest America's continuing economic advantage extends from an ability for business and political leaders to accept the need for workplace change. Mention "work practises" to an Irish audience and you'll go head-to-head with the union organiser before you can lay out your points of discussion. One of my brothers willingly took a reduction in responsibility (reduced pay) in exchange for keeping his job. Many Europeans would neither accept a pay cut nor accept rising income inequality. In fact, some people associate pay cuts with the roll-out of IT packages and that's why they resist the implementation of new technology.
I listened to my brothers talking about how their companies had invested in high-tech equipment--more like continually patching their equipment--as well as compressing their business organisations. Better business efficiency often arises from revised practises following the installation of new technology. IT can only affect productivity if companies use it effectively after the technology is installed. That invariably means addressing 20th century work practises.
Economists Frank Levy and Richard Murnane explore the effects of new technologies on 21st century workplaces in their recent book New Divisions of Labor. Some interesting observations emerge.
- American workers who use computers command a wage premium of 15% over workers who do not.
- Workers in Germany who use pencils earn wages higher than workers who do not.
- Too few people are acquiring educational skills needed by employers.
- The long-term benefits of technology-driven growth, including higher standards of living, will come only at the short-term cost of disruption in jobs.
- According to the OECD's economists, there is a strong negative correlation between the level of employment protection in a country and the extent to which its businesses have invested in ICTs.
Frank Levy and Richard Murnane -- The New Divisions of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market ISBN 0691119724