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    Media Watch
    On employment, livelihood and the future of work

    from The Jobs Letter No.11 / 21 February 1995

    by Carla Rapoport, Fortune, 13 February 1995, also in Time.

    An overview of the recent work and ideas of Charles Handy, the management philosopher and futurist who believes that we can survive and prosper in the tough new downsized work environment, if we understand the forces that are shaping it.

    Handy is well known to employment activists for his early 1980's book The Future of Work. More recently he has published two bestsellers : The Age of Unreason, in which he forecast the collapse of the 45-yr old job and paternalistic corporations, along with the unfolding of the new service-based economy; and The Age of Paradox (published earlier this year) in which he recognises the dark side of these developments with companies ruthlessly pursuing efficiency at the expense of workers, the community, and even their own futures.

    " Handy has an unconventional view of the future that stands everything we think we know on its head. When we were all employed, he says, "we basically sold our time for money. So long as we were doing what we wanted to do, the point of our lives was to get as much money for it as possible. Money as the measure of our success." In that world, education was primarily for a fixed time, and then it ended.

    " Upside-down thinking says that all these certainties will soon be dead. Governments are going broke and can't afford benefits. Education will have to become never-ending. Because they can take nothing forgranted - including their jobs - workers will need to learn how to value time as well as money..."

    " Very soon, half the work force of the developed world will be `outside' traditional organisations. The future prosperity of all of us will depend on their competencies and their education, yet no-one seems to be noticing or caring. If workers don't continually develop or update their skills, not only will they be no use to the organisation but, worse, they will be a growing burden to the rest of us. Few will bother to educate themselves if the government and corporations don't do it. The result : Half the population could be out of work... " - Fortune

    The Job Crisis and the Dangers and Benefits of Downsizing, by Michael Hirsh Newsweek, 7 February 1995, also in the Bulletin.

    America's report card on "downsizing", "re-engineering", and mass layoffs of workers during the 80's and 90's is starting to show mixed results.

    Michael Hirsh warns that the lean-and-mean company management fashion that exists from New York to Tokyo may be getting hollow. Americans are learning that repeated layoffs are inducing `corporate anorexia' - starving oneself of staff, skills and morale.

    " American managers are reassessing their own formulas. Somewhat to their surprise, they are finding that slash-and-burn layoffs often don't work. The surviving workforce can become demoralised, angry and subversive, the last thing a service company wants. The lesson being learnt is that the neutron-bomb approach to re-engineering, macho management, is a form of management malpractice.

    " Indeed, bottom line results are mixed so far. According to a study of manufacturing companies by the National Bureau of Economic Research, about half of the increases in US productivity in the 1980's came from plants that actually §increased§ employment. And profits haven't yet improved for most downsized companies. To most managers re-engineering still means just cutting jobs rather than revamping work procedures and products."

    " Nynex, New York's local telephone company, has approved a generous contract renegotiation that US Secretary of Labour Robert Reich called a breakthrough in US labour relations, a sign that companies can be lean without being mean.

    " While workers must work harder and perform more tasks, the pact virtually bars layoffs through to 1998 and offers huge pensions to early retirees and free tuition for college classes - even during working hours. Managers get a similar deal. Nynex has budgeted $3.1 billion in restructuring charges through next year to unload surplus staff more gently. That works out at $180,000 per employee, six times what some rivals have spent... " - Newsweek.

    by the editors of the Economist, The Economist, 11 February 1995

    The current fear of continuing job losses due to new technologies is leading to political panicking that may well be misplaced, says the Economist. The article is critical of pessimistic forecasts such as those in the recently released book The End of Work by Jeremy Rifkin (pub G.P.Putman's Sons) which predicts that within the next century the world's richest economies will have virtually no need of workers.

    " Both theory and evidence suggest that in the long run new technology should create more jobs than it destroys. But the long run can take a long time. In the next decade or so, things depend on how quickly demand expands to match increases in productive capacity. Unfortunately there may be prolonged lags between job losses and the creation of new jobs. And the new jobs may anyway be inappropriate for the displaced workers. Not every redundant steel worker in Scotland will be able to work as an aerobics teacher in London. "

    " How can this problem of a jobs mismatch be eliminated ? The familiar answer is that compensating demand effects are likely to come through more quickly when general economic growth is strong, and when the markets for both labour and products are flexible. Governments can therefore help by making workers more adaptable through improvements in education and training, and by removing obstacles to free markets in labour and in goods and services ..." - the Economist.


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