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The future of work and changing occupational identities

April 24th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

The debate over the future of work, long running in research circles but kicked into public consciousness amongst others a Oxford University study titled ‘The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation’ suggesting over 40 per cent of jobs are at threat in the next 11 years due to technology, emgineercontinues. In truth there is little agreement from economists and labour market specialists. Some claim techn0logy is leading to more jobs, some that it is destroying jobs and still other that it is neutral. Some claim technology is leading to jobs being deskilled, others the reverse.

I like a recent blog post entitled ‘More on digitalisation and skills: What happens within occupations?’, by Guillermo Montt on the OECD Skills and Work web site. The article says that “as technology enters the workplace, the tasks related to a job and an occupation change” citing  Alexandra Spitz-Oener (2006) who found that in Germany, occupations in the 2000s require more complex skills than in 1979 and that this change is more pronounced in occupations that adopted computers. Although something of a simplification, that finding is largely born out in analysis of the USA O*NET data. The article also draws attention to research by James Bessen published in his recent book ‘Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages and Wealth‘. “He follows the evolution of occupations over time and claims that accelerated technological change has implications for inequality within occupations with more and more occupations becoming winner-take-all markets.” Essentially, as new technology is introduced pay and opportunities in occupations bifurcate with a few taking high high, pay levels and more taking home lower pay. “In occupations requiring above-median computer use, the 90th to 50th percentile wage ratio has risen by 0.2% per year but has remained stagnant in occupations with below-median computer use. Workers who stay ahead of the curve, those who learn by doing, reap the wage benefits of technological change.”

This has major implication for training and continuing professional development. CPD has traditionally been organised through courses. But as we have already found in in the EmployID project working with employees in European Public Employment Services, traditional course delivery is both too slow to respond to change and even more problematic is unable to deliver the volume of training required. The approach adopted in EmployID is both to look at using new technologies for learning and for promoting informal learning in the workplace but also to center on changing occupational identities. For instance there is a very different occupational identity associated with a print graphic designer than todays web designer. But the ability to change occupational identities may be shaped by previous learning experiences and by motivation as well as the ability to reflect on both individual and group learning. Within EmployID we are exploring how Learning Analytics can bets be deployed to assets people in reflection (Reflection Analytics) and to assist in transforming identities to deal with such change. I am presenting this work next week at a LAKs pre conference workshop in Glasgow and will publish by slides on this blog.

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