Technology and Careers

Technology and CareersOver four decades ago, Alvin Toffler predicted that our society would be affected by the Information Revolution due to technology provided by the computer. Clearly, this has occurred. We have moved from an agricultural society to a factory/assembly line/ manufacturing society, to an automated/knowledge-based society. There are few occupations that are untouched by technology. Whether an individual is involved with producing tangible goods or providing a service, technical advances have reshaped work and lifestyles. Today, employees’ primary activities are gathering, creating, manipulating, storing, and distributing information related to products, services, and customer needs.

Technology has had a powerful effect on the nature of work and what jobs are currently in demand. In fact, jobs that were never even imagined 20 years ago are being created today. In the past, there were stable, clearly classifiable jobs (blue collar, white collar), while today there are many rapidly changing types of jobs (multitiered, technical, professional, executive jobs). Career preparation, choices, and objectives are different now than they were years ago. For example, today many individuals are targeting smaller firms, skill-contracting agencies, or starting their own businesses rather than working for larger firms. In addition, career objectives have changed from simply climbing prescribed organizational ladders to more personal development in areas of expertise. Individuals are less likely to work their entire careers at the same firm and instead are employed at various firms and by contracting agencies.

Almost all aspects of an employee’s career are influenced by technology. From the time they are hired and selected (via Web site applications), trained (using online learning), mentored (via e-mentoring), evaluated (by computerized performance appraisals), as well as the type of work they do and where they do it (e.g., telework, virtual teams), they are exposed to some form of technology. Thus technology has also impacted how individuals apply for jobs, strategies used by employers to find employees and train them, and services provided by career counselors. Technology has also impacted vocational psychology and career guidance services. Counselors can provide future workers with a skills approach to their careers, thus enabling individuals to be transformed from powerless victims into knowledgeable, creative, self-initiated workers who can anticipate career shifts and plan for new career directions.

How Technology Has Changed The Nature Of Work And Skills Required Of Workers

Changing Skills

Technology is considered to be one of the most widely recognized forces affecting work and how it is changing. The technology of microelectronics, robotics, and computer-integrated manufacturing along with the explosion of digital telecommunications due to the growth of the Internet and the World Wide Web have brought the world to the verge of a transformation similar to an industrial revolution. It is expected that the Big Four information technologies—computer networks, imaging technology, massive data storage, and artificial intelligence—will continue to have revolutionary effects on shaping today’s occupations.

Computerization and the emerging information highway are transforming the American economy. Computers are changing the composition and distribution of labor, improving labor efficiency, and creating new markets and new forms of organizations. Technology shapes what people do and how they do it. Technological change often creates new occupations (e.g., computer scientists, programmers) and reduces or eliminates some existing occupations (e.g., telephone operators). In addition, digitization has changed the types of skills needed on jobs. It has increased the analytic and information-processing skills required on some jobs and decreased the manual and sensory-based skills of others.

Today, brainpower is replacing manual labor, and future workers must continually educate themselves and increase their skills to maintain their value in the workplace. Technology has reduced the number of workers required to maintain and operate high-tech factories and workplaces, has given rise to the need for “knowledge workers,” and has elevated the general education required for work. Few emerging occupations exist for people who cannot read, write, and do basic mathematics. Thus people who have weak educational backgrounds are likely to be increasingly vulnerable to unemployment. In fact, the growth of computer use is associated with increased employment of college graduates and decreased employment of high school graduates. In some industries, advanced technology has eliminated the need for some unskilled and semiskilled jobs and even some middle management jobs that tended to be the positions that collected and analyzed data for decision making. For future jobs, greater emphasis will be placed on cognitive, communications, and interactive skills.

With 76 million baby boomers heading toward retirement over the next three decades and only 46 million Generation Xers waiting in the wings, corporate America is facing a potentially large talent crunch. Labor-saving technology and immigration may help fill the gap, but by 2010 there may be a shortage of 4 to 6 million workers. Not enough Americans are trained for these jobs, since they lack computer literacy, leadership, critical thinking skills, and communication skills.

Technology has also made workplaces more information dependent in order to operate machines (e.g., robots, aircraft) for quality control and for decision making about inventory management and tracking distribution of products shipped. Employees at all levels of the organization have greater access to information and greater opportunities to make work decisions. For some jobs, computers have given employees more autonomy in their work. For others, the need for continuous data entry to computers and monitoring them to meet customers’ needs has imposed a new form of assembly line. In some cases, employees have greater concerns about invasion of privacy as managers use more sophisticated surveillance techniques to monitor productivity.

24/7 Work

With the increasing technological advances, workers are able to do their jobs almost anywhere. Laptops, fax machines, cellular phones, networks, e-mail, and voice mail have made it possible for workers to essentially work 24 hours, seven days a week. Work can now be done without regard to space, time, or political boundaries. Americans, as a group, now work harder and longer than almost any other people on earth. Some studies have indicated that people have less free time and feel more pressed for time as compared to those in the past. Information technology (IT) is now used in 64 percent of women’s jobs, and by 2000, women using IT in their jobs worked 3.4 hours per week longer than nonusers. The economy, globalization, and 24-hour demand for goods and services have busted capacity in the 40-hour work week. Now, no longer are just police officers, nurses, taxi drivers, delivery personnel, factory employees, and security guards working at night. Today, all types of employees (e.g., stock brokers, building contractors, account reps, software fixers) are working at night. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2000 it was estimated that 23 million people worked night, evening, or split shifts, up from 3.5 million working the night shift in 1997.

Changing Workplaces and Telework

Today, more workers are telecommuting. In fact, the innovations of telework and virtual teams are experiencing an annual growth rate of 5 percent to 10 percent. Telecommuting is the use of computers and telecommunications equipment to work at home or in other locations away from a conventional, centralized office. Careers and jobs are increasingly being seen as boundaryless, flexible, and virtual.

Telework has the benefits of allowing people to work from home (saving commuting time and costs as well as office space costs) and is purported to help employees better balance their home and work lives. However, some workers feel isolated and are worried that less visibility might negatively impact their career progression. In addition, work and home roles often become blurred, which can lead to greater role conflict and stress among workers. Given the 24/7 nature of many jobs, it becomes increasingly more important for employers to work with individuals to create jobs that meet the life needs of employees as well as the organization’s needs.

How Technology Has Changed Various Types Of Jobs

Technology has altered the nature of various types of jobs and the mix of skills that are required to do them. The cognitive complexity of work appears to be increasing for blue-collar and service workers. A major effect of information technology on blue-collar work has been to replace physical activity with mental and more abstract forms of analysis. The predominant trends in blue-collar work are for computer-integrated manufacturing technologies and team-based work, which increases the degree of control and task scope and requires higher cognitive and interactive skills and activities. It is estimated that one-third of the blue-collar workforce is changing in this way. Some of the blue-collar jobs that have undergone the greatest transformations have been the steel industry, auto industry, and the apparel industry. It should be noted that what is most important, however, is the combination of computer usage by blue-collar workers with innovative work practices and cooperative labor-management relations (i.e., computers alone do not improve productivity).

Service work (e.g., personal service, clerical and administrative support, sales) has also changed due to technology. Automation and routinization of work has expanded from the back office (typists, data processors, operators) to the front office (customer service and sales employees). Call centers now exist for telemarketing operations, banking, telecommunica­tions, and insurance. There is also evidence of an overall increase in technical skill requirements, computer usage, and cognitive complexity of service jobs.

Managerial workers consist of managers, executives, and administrators. It is expected that increased computer power may lead to a fall in managerial employment, since expert systems have reduced the need for some types of managers. Managers are more likely to be project managers than functional managers. Thus they manage the process and flow of work, rather than people. This means that they need greater skills in coordinating tasks and working horizontally across the internal and external boundaries of organizations.

Professional and technical workers (e.g., engineers, scientists, computer occupations, social scientists, lawyers, religious workers, teachers, counselors, health occupations, writers, artists, entertainers) continue to expand in the labor force. This is due to corporate growth, technological changes, demographic changes, and the commercialization of scientific knowledge. Technological changes have shifted the workforce by creating new occupations (e.g., computer operators, analysts, programmers, air traffic controllers, nuclear technicians). In addition, some occupations are experiencing greater autonomy, while at the same time, some are experiencing bureaucratic controls (e.g., health care physicians who are subject to restrictions by managed care firms). Technical and professional work has always entailed high cognitive content, but interpersonal interactions (e.g., communications, problem solving, negotiation skills) are becoming more important in many of these jobs.

Jobs For The Future

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that 8 of the 10 fastest-growing occupations between 2000 and 2010 will be computer related. These include jobs such as computer and information systems managers, computer programmers, computer and information scientists, computer system analysts, computer hardware and software engineers, computer support specialists, database administrators, network and computer systems administrators, and data communications analysts. Jobs requiring information technology skills are in high demand for the future, especially for the military, aerospace, and federal agencies. One important consideration is that because the skills in these jobs can become obsolete much faster than in other jobs, it is increasingly important for employers and government agencies to make it easier for IT professionals and those in computer-related fields to keep their skills current by lifelong learning efforts. In addition, some have suggested that soft skills such as communication and presentation skills are increasingly more important for IT professionals due to the greater need for them to explain technical issues to nontechnical people. It is also important for schools to attract more women to IT and computer-related fields, since traditionally few women express interest in IT or pursue these degrees. In addition, it is well documented that women often face barriers when pursuing academic careers in science, math, engineering, or technology.

Technology And Health In Careers

The technological evolution of the office environment has produced many benefits, yet it has also brought with it some negative outcomes. These include both physical health concerns as well as psychological concerns. Employers will need to continue to examine the impact of technological advances on the physical and psychological health of their employees and to make adjustments as needed.

The most commonly reported physical issues are byproducts of increasing technological sophistication (increased work pace, noise, mental demands, repetitive movements), which can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, back injuries). According to the U.S. Department of Labor, approximately 1.8 million people report work-related musculoskeletal disorders. These disorders are costly and long term. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, musculoskeletal disorder costs total more than $50 billion a year and are the third most frequent reason for disability and early retirement. In addition, they can lead to job loss, depression, and family disruption.

In addition to physical problems associated with increased technology in workplaces, there are also psychological health concerns. These come from office noise, changing work demands, a lack of control on the job (e.g., technological equipment breakdowns that they do not know how to fix), isolation from others, and reductions in privacy (e.g., increased electronic monitoring by supervisors). Research has linked most of these technology-related variables to psychological stress, which can then lead to other negative outcomes (strains, negative attitudes, anxiety, depression, low job satisfaction, mood disturbances).

The Impact Of Technology On Career And Developmental Practices

Today employers note that finding, attracting, and developing quality workers has become a top priority as they try to combat labor shortages, meet changing worker expectations, upgrade their workforce, and build innovation and creativity into internationally competitive organizations. Employers and applicants are increasingly relying on the Internet as part of the job search process.

Individual Job Search Strategies

With the advent of the Internet and computer-assisted career systems, individuals have greater control over their own career search strategies and progress. According to applicants, the use of the Internet for job searching is seen as a less effective strategy than personal networking but far superior to using newspaper ads and cold-calling to find jobs. In fact, most new college graduates view the Internet as a major source for help in locating job opportunities. Popular career sites such as Monster.com, Headhunter.com, and Dice.com are busy not only at their peak times on Monday and Tuesday afternoons but also during off hours (between 1 and 2 a.m.). College students, in particular, are known for pulling all-nighters to hunt for jobs online. Individuals often use these sites to view job listings and apply for jobs.

Despite the popularity of the Internet, there are some reported problems associated with using it to search for jobs. These include less personal contact, less accuracy with regard to the job’s description, difficulties finding companies’ Web pages or navigating through them, problems submitting resumes according to specific Web specifications and receiving an acknowledgment or follow-up call from company representatives once a resume is submitted.

Employers’ Use of the Internet to Hire Employees

Employers are increasingly relying on career and job Web sites to recruit and select employees. In fact, the job of the recruiter has changed such that candidates can be identified, screened, and recruited all online. Given the intense competition among employers for qualified employees, many recruiters are working late at night to look for potential resumes. Nocturnal Web surfing is now common practice among recruiters. Determined headhunters snap up hot resumes before dawn, contacting candidates by e-mail and sometimes even by phone. Many recruiters stay up past 2 a.m. examining job sites, surfing chat rooms, digging out fresh resumes on personal Web pages, posting help-wanted ads and sending e-mails. This is particularly true when recruiters are trying to hire overseas workers due to the time differences. Candidates with technical skills that are in high demand find themselves bombarded with calls and e-mail within minutes of posting a resume online. Thus from an employer’s perspective, online recruiting has tremendous potential benefits for corporations. These include reducing the time needed to hire someone, less costs relative to using headhunters and external search firms, reduced costs on mailings, brochures, and on-site interviews, and the ability to reach a more diverse applicant pool.

The Impact Of Technology On Employee Learning And Development

Due to the dynamic quality of work and work organizations, people will likely engage in seven or more jobs in their work lives. They will also have to frequently be retrained in order to remain competitive and manage their own career development. Some workers may become “world workers,” moving among nations in pursuit of suitable work. Thus there is a shift from developing “career maturity” and toward “career adaptability” (that is, being able to change to fit new or changed circumstances).

The corporation of the future will have accumulated knowledge and innovative potential of its workers as its single greatest asset. Thus training and continual learning is in demand as employees need greater skills to move more rapidly across jobs. Employees also need technical training and must learn how to operate with discretion in an open information environment. Retraining is increasingly important due to obsolescence of knowledge and skills among technical and professional workers. That is, as a result of the fast pace of technological advances, many workers lack the up-to-date knowledge and skills needed to maintain effective performance in their current or future work roles. This problem may intensify with an increasingly aging workforce. Thus retraining the expanding older techni­cal workforce is a major challenge facing the country. In addition, as firms downsize or restructure their workforce, they will need to retrain current employees to do other jobs or provide outplacement counseling so that those employees can find jobs in other organizations. For retraining efforts to be successful, it is important that there is top management support for retraining programs and that retraining is voluntary. It is also helpful if specific jobs are assigned to the employee prior to retraining so he or she can see the relevance of learning new skills.

Technology has not only impacted the importance of retraining or continual learning, but it has also influenced the type of training that can be used with employees. The methodologies used to train employees have changed due to advances in computer-based training and online methods. E-learning is gaining in popularity, since it allows individuals to continue their learning in a self-paced fashion. Thus it is immediately available to them and is not limited by travel time or costs (to attend training sessions). Likewise, distance learning programs are in great demand in firms. Some organizations (e.g., Federal Express) have implemented a corporate-wide computer system that handles most of the human resource functions of the firm (e.g., recording training completed for employees, posting job descriptions for hirings) as well as online training programs to help employees develop on their jobs.

Web-Based Or E-Mentoring

Advances in technology have created new opportunities for how the mentoring of individuals is conducted. Traditionally, mentors and proteges rely on face-to-face meetings to discuss issues and build a relationship. E-mentoring refers to the process of using electronic means as the primary channel of communication between mentors and proteges. The key distinction between electronic mentoring and traditional mentoring is reflected in the face-time between mentors and proteges. E-mentoring takes advantage of technology to broaden the definition of mentoring relationships by relaxing the constraints of geographical location and time. Thus individuals with alternative work schedules (telecommuters, flextime workers) may still access mentors without altering their work arrangements. In addition, those who have traditionally had less access to mentoring relationships (e.g., women, minorities) may have greater opportunities to get mentored with e-mentoring.

The Impact Of Technology On The Role And Services Provided By Career Counselors

History of Technology and Career Counseling

Vocational psychology faces a number of challenges in the next century from the globalization of economies to the changing nature of work and the workforce. Many of the changes come from the explo­sion of communication technologies in the last 20 years. The increased use of computers and the Internet in vocational psychology has been a major development for practitioners. It has led to the availability of more systems and approaches to career guidance and has essentially changed the job and role of the career counselor. In particular, with the larger number of jobs that people are expected to have over their lifetime due to advanced technology and longer life spans, counselors will be in more demand to provide career assistance. Vocational counselors will need to be prepared to deal with the changing needs and demands of both individuals and employers. For example, with the aging of the baby boomers, counselors will need to assist them in changing careers and updating skills.

The use of technology to assist individuals with career planning had its genesis in the late sixties, when early developers first used the computer to assist with career planning. The early systems that were used stored a personal record for each user in order to monitor a person’s progress through the career planning process. The results from the assessment were then linked to occupational options for the user. Some of the early sys­tems were precursors of later systems such as SIGI PLUS and DISCOVER, which are described below and are still prominent in schools and other settings today.

In the 1970s, career information systems were developed due to the National Occupational Information Coordinating Committee. These systems were comprised of search strategies through databases of occupations, schools, financial aid, and military programs. From the early seventies until 1999, there was a steady growth of customized versions of commercial career information systems in the states. With the advent of common access to the Internet in the early 1990s, career planning changed dramatically.

Several of the computer-based career information systems moved from stand-alone delivery to delivery via the Internet. Web sites devoted to career information or planning began to proliferate at an astounding rate and with a wide range of quality.

Today, individuals can take a more active role in their own career progress, since the Internet provides a rich source of career and job information that is accessible to almost anyone. This means that the counselor’s role/job has changed. Today, often the counselor’s primary role is to help clients access information on the Internet and other computer-assisted programs in an efficient and helpful manner. Of course, it is still impor­tant for counselors to meet with clients and provide career guidance. The best combination is using computers for assessment and then offering counseling with a vocational practitioner. Interestingly, cybercounseling has emerged, that is, the provision of face-to-face counseling via the Internet.

As noted, a number of different tools are used by career counselors today. These include computer-assisted career guidance systems (e.g., DISCOVER, SIGI (or the System of Interactive and Guidance Information), CHOICES, CDSS (or Career Decisions Software Solutions) and online information systems (Internet).

Computer-Assisted Career Guidance Systems

Computer-assisted career guidance (CACG) systems are often designed to help high school or college students make informed and educated decisions about their future. For example, CHOICES offers information about vocational technical schools, education and training, state and local information, and financial aid. Most computer-assisted career guidance systems offer occupational information, information about postsecondary institutions and technical/specialized schools, financial aid information, interest inventories, and decision-making skills. They might also include ability measures, value inventories, job search strategies, information on job interviewing, and local job information files. O*NET, or the Occupational Information Network, was recently developed as a replacement for the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. It is a comprehensive system that describes occupations based on at least 60 years of research and knowledge on the nature of jobs and work.

Two commonly used CACG systems are DISCOVER and SIGI PLUS. Both systems provide multiple online assessment devices to assist users in establishing links between their interests, values, abilities, and skills and the occupations that should best meet their needs. Counselors should do the following when using computer-assisted career guidance systems:

  • Assess needs—assess the client’s needs to determine which parts of the career program to use.
  • Orient the client—explain the purpose and goals of the program and the mechanics of the system.
  • Offer assistance—provide individualized help when the client’s needs are determined.
  • Provide online assistance—provide help when different stages are explored during the process.
  • Follow up—encourage, motivate, set goals, and interpret outcomes to the client.
  • Evaluate—monitor the effectiveness of the computer-assisted system.

As noted by Nadene Peterson and Roberto C. Gonzalez, computers provide a number of benefits to career counselors as noted below:

  • A more efficient use of time for practitioners
  • Immediate access to assessment results
  • Greater accuracy of administration and scoring
  • More opportunities for research
  • Popularity with clients, especially self-motivated clients

There are, however, some potential problems such as the following:

  • Loss of client/practitioner interactions
  • Assumption of a certain level of client cognitive functioning and self-motivation
  • Potential loss of privacy

Regardless of which computer system is used, it is important for counselors to know the client’s needs and tailor the technology to his or her needs. It is also desired that counseling assistance be provided in addi­tion to using the computer system, since most computer systems were not designed to be stand-alone. Furthermore, it is critical that career counselors receive additional training to keep pace with changes in technology as well as changes in the needs of a more diverse client population.

Career Guidance and the Internet

Today, the fastest growing source of information about careers, jobs, and related areas is on the Internet. The Internet is an international linkage of computers, telecommunications, graphics, and knowledge bases from sites around the world, making comprehensive information accessible to persons in any setting or geographic location. Some of the major sources of information about careers and jobs include the Web sites for

The Internet will continue to play an important role providing career services, because not everyone has the time or money to seek face-to-face assistance from career counselors. The primary ways in which the Internet assists individuals is by (a) administering career assessments, (b) providing information on a variety of career planning topics (e.g., occupational descriptions, job databases), (c) serving as a conduit for cybercounseling (where the client and counselor can see each other on computers to conduct their meeting), (d) serving as a forum for group communication or networking between clients and school alumni or employers or support group members, (e) enabling the creation of virtual career centers (Web sites that integrate skills or interest assessments with training required for various jobs and job openings), and (f) facilitating individual participation in virtual reality technology so that clients can explore potential work activities.

Some of the benefits of using the Internet for career services include the following:

  • Service can be available to adults 24 hours a day 7 days a week, wherever they have access to the Internet.
  • Multiple users can connect (alumni, employers, clients).
  • Career services might be more accessible and affordable for some populations.

While online services can provide valuable information to individuals, there are a number of concerns, including the following:

  • The accuracy, relevance, and timeliness of information
  • The usefulness of the information
  • Adequate preparation for the user to know how to process the information, since in some cases the information is disjointed or not integrated
  • Opportunity for follow-up to correct or confirm the information
  • Confidentiality and privacy
  • Potential for violation of copyright law
  • Ethical exchange of information between sites and users
  • Lack of training of counselors with the technology
  • Addressing issues of informed consent, trust, and protecting the identity of participants when conduct­ing research

Summary

Technology has had a dramatic impact on the nature of work itself, individual applicants and employees, employers, and career counselors. It has changed the nature of work and the types of jobs that people do today. It has altered the knowledge and skills individuals need to be effective workers. It has transformed how employers recruit, select, and train applicants and employees. It has also changed how individuals gather occupational information and how career counselors work with their clients. As a result, individuals, employers, and career counselors will need to keep pace with advancing technology and be adaptable and responsive to change in order to continue to be successful to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

See also:

References:

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