The evolving world of work

A lot has been written about the way work has changed over the centuries. The following animation (from MIT OpenCourseware) boils down the history of work into 3 minutes.

In their book, Minds at Work, David Grebow and Stephen Gill summarise the position neatly, showing how as the Agricultural Economy gave way to the Industrial Economy, work moved from the fields into the cities, and that by the 20th century, work was focused on the mass-production of goods, like food, clothing as well as cars – more and more of which took place on assembly lines.

Companies hired hands.

The skills that people needed to do their jobs were simple and largely manual, and their work changed very little. People remained in the same place – primarily on the factory floor – day after day.

People learned to do their jobs in the same way as they had done at school – in the classroom. Mass-training ensured that they were able to perform the same task or set of tasks in exactly the same way.

However, by the late 20th century there was a change in work – the birth of the Knowledge Economy;  an economy in which the production of goods and services was based primarily upon knowledge-intensive activities – undertaken by “knowledge workers”, a term invented by Peter Drucker.

Companies hired heads.

The work people did changed frequently, as globalisation forced companies to innovate. People mainly worked in offices, although they could work from anywhere at any time. And the skills people needed as “knowledge workers” became increasingly complex and were continuously changing.

Yet, on the whole, people still learned to do their jobs in the same way as before – through mass-training (or more recently mass e-learning).

Today, in the early 21st century we are now seeing a number of new forces that are fundamentally transforming the world of work in what is being termed by some as the 4th Industrial Revolution. These forces are changing the nature of jobs yet again, which means a new reality for both organisations and for individuals.

Last updated: May 14, 2019 at 13:58 pm

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