The Future of Work, Work as Social Problem & Change in the Workplace
The Future of Work, Work as Social Problem & Change in the Workplace
Population diversity, globalization, information technology, immigration and unemployment rates among other factors are increasingly becoming indicators of the future workforce. According to projections, population diversity especially in the U.S. will increase from 14% as recorded in 1995 to 19% in 2020, with Asians and Hispanics making the most contribution to this increase (Giddens, et al., 2003). It is also clear that the level of technological improvements and innovations is currently rising while the unemployment rate has remained inconsistent; sometimes up sometimes relatively down. A combination of all or some of these factors will potentially change the future of work and sometimes make work to be seen as a social problem. This discussion analyses the future of work, changes in the workplaces, and work as a social problem, explaining in details the impact of technological and demographic changes on work.
The Future of Work
Over the next few years, there will be a significant shift in terms of demographic changes in relation to work. Birth rates continue to oscillate while increase in population and labor diversity appears inevitable given the high rates of immigration. In America, for instance, the Asian and Hispanic population will continue to increase, not forgetting the African American population. There is also an increase in the number of young people entering the workforce globally while the number of middle-aged workers is projected to slightly decline. The number of workers within the prime age group, established to be between 25-54 years, appears to be increasing (Giddens, et al., 2003). Experienced workers, those who are between 45 and 54 years old, make up an important workforce segment and their number is not expected to decline in the near future. With the rapidly changing technological landscape, several young workers will enter the workforce thus putting the position of older workers (65 years and over) at a risk. So what exactly is the future of work?
Apparently, technological proliferation will only increase in the future. Increased workplace automation and a large number of advanced machines appear inevitable in future to a point where the position of the human workforce will be greatly challenged. The use of automated machines, robots, or androids appears to be receiving a lot of attention. The human workforce may still be required to work alongside these technological developments, but it is obvious that the employment space for humans will be greatly curtailed. In another context, there has been a rapid growth in business investments in information technology. It is reported that almost 90% of workplaces have embraced information and computer technology (Steers, et al., 2004). This has had a significant implication on the niche of employees required to fill the current employment opportunities (Giddens, et al., 2003). Due to the extensive use of computer technology, employable people need to have good communication, arithmetic and teamwork skills. Most industries have today developed extensive ICT systems and are demanding the necessary proficiency in the said area from most employees. Older employable persons with no basic training in such areas will most definitely be put out of work positions that have high demands for such skills. While industries may vary with regard to their investment in information technology, it is no doubt that the technology will be more pervasive, intricate to organizational operations, and vital for improved performance. Hence, most industries will invest intensively in advanced IT (Taylor, 2002). Current education and training system must be adequately prepared to respond to the potential demands of advanced information technological skills. In general, future work will be very complex given the potential integration of advanced technologies. The human labor may be significantly threatened by these technologies, but it still remains purely academic how technology can completely replace human labor force (Cartwright & Holmes, 2006). What is obvious, however, is that there will be a huge demand of highly skilled workers who can meet the future requirements of work.
Work as Social Problem
Can work be a social problem? First off, it is important to understand the conditions that social problems must meet. In other words, what is a social problem? Second, how can work fit into this definition in order to be considered a social problem? Sociology is instrumental in defining social problems and often operates hand in hand with social work to find solution to these problems. In that regard, a social problem refers a dysfunction or a dislocation within the social system that is seen by society as requiring effective interventions (Cartwright & Holmes, 2006). Therefore, for any social condition to be defined as a social problem, it must meet three requirements. It has to be social in origin, seen by society as a problem, and needs social intervention. For instance, when income is distributed unequally among the members of a society, there is inequality, which is an element of a social problem. The intentions to place work within this definition implies that it has to be seen as having problems that originate socially. For instance, lack of work is termed as unemployment. Increased unemployment rate is a social problem because it is the society that has failed to create enough job opportunities to absorb people. Unemployment could also result from reduced employment spaces as technological applications continue replacing the human labor (Taylor, 2002).
Work as a social problem may also breed inequality. Some aspects of work have been traditionally dominated by a given gender. For example, engineering is dominated by males while nursing is dominated by females. Despite significant social evolutions some workplace administrators are still reluctant to recognize members of the opposite sex equally while making appointments (Steers, et al., 2004). As a result, cases of gender inequality and discrimination spin out. Work in itself is good and should not be regarded as a social problem (Taylor, 2002). However, the aspects of human interactions with work create negative situations that adversely affect society in general. Inability of work to satisfy social demands can also help define it as a social problem. Corruption, inequality, discrimination and unemployment are all related to work (Giddens, et al., 2003). They all reinforce the idea that work can be a serious social problem. Furthermore, there are certain ways through which social problems can be responded to. These include amelioration of negative outcomes without dealing with root causes, modification of the responsible social institution to prevent the problem, revolutionary social structuring to eliminate the root causes, or active participation of pressure groups to exacerbate symptoms of the problems. Each of these responses is directly relevant to solving the social problems related to work (Cartwright & Holmes, 2006).
The Changing Workplace
If there is any human context that is experiencing huge changes as a result of modernity and technological developments, it is the workplace. The future workplace may even experience greater changes (Taylor, 2002). Globalization is one major aspect that is greatly influencing the workplace. Today, market liberalization and improvements in information technology have in many ways aided the growth and development of globalization. Corporations have extensively expanded their wings and some of them are now operating in several foreign markets (Steers, et al., 2004). As a result, various changes have had to take place. Firstly, organizational structures are receiving fundamental reformations to accommodate new changes in terms of culture and philosophy, values, missions and visions. As observed above, population diversity is rapidly growing and so is workplace diversity (Cartwright & Holmes, 2006). Unlike before, when most workforces were made up of people who shared a relatively single cultural value, most organizations today employ people from different cultural backgrounds. These workplaces are usually defined as multicultural workplaces. In any multicultural organization, employees do not share most perspectives, but it is upon the organizational leadership to structure the workplace to ensure that there is a single unifying organizational culture that all employees share regardless of their cultural backgrounds (Steers, et al., 2004).
Technology has also changed a lot in the workplace. Most organizations have adopted customization in relation to their work organization in order to achieve greater productivity. Globalization has seen increased competition between domestic companies and international companies. As a result, technology has had to be used to ensure that even the domestic companies have the same competitive advantages as international companies (Steers, et al., 2004). Others have integrated traditional and customization work organizations in order to conform to both local and global values and trends. Communication and problem solving strategies are becoming more influential considerations within workplaces. Organizational leadership patterns and styles have also received a lot of attention because they influence performance in many ways. In other words, there are numerous changes in the workplace. Technology is getting adopted to accomplish a wide range of tasks that were hitherto done by humans; it makes such tasks easier or gradually replaces human labor (Giddens, et al., 2003).
Rapid technological developments and globalization have put pressure on work in many aspects. The future of work will see advanced technologies applied including various forms of automation in the workplace. It will also contribute to a diverse workplace where people from different cultural backgrounds, including those with disabilities, will work on equal competitive opportunities. Work as a social problem includes various aspects such unemployment, inequality, discrimination, and corruption among others. Ultimately, the workplace has undergone significant changes and more are anticipated.
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Giddens, A., Duneier, M., & Appelbaum, R. P. (2003). Introduction to Sociology. New York: W.W. Norton & CO.
Steers, R. M., Mowday, R. T., & Shapiro, D. L. (2004). Introduction to special topic forum: The future of work motivation theory. The Academy of Management Review, 29(3), 379-387.
Taylor, R. (2002). The Future of Work-Life Balance. London: ESRC Publications.