The Changing Skills of the Telephone Technician

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The Debate about Skilled Work. Marxist View: The Deskilling ThesisBraverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, Chapter 9

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The Changing Skills of the Telephone Technician

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1. The Changing Skills of the Telephone Technician Professor Roger Penn University of Bologna 2009

2. The Debate about Skilled Work Marxist View: The Deskilling Thesis Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, Chapter 9 ‘Machinery’. Machine maintenance work de-skilled as a result of the advent of self-diagnostic routines within modern machinery and the use of modular component replacements.

3. Neo-Marxism: Martin (1988) Claimed that telecommunications’ workers were being deskilled His example focused upon the development of electronic telephone exchanges: ‘repair work has been radically simplified…instead of repairing electro-mechanical devices, printed circuit boards are simply replaced’. The problem was that such exchange workers were a small part of the overall workforce: most were engaged in the maintenance of the telephone network [ratio of 15: 1] A classic example of finding the evidence that fits a pre-conceived theory

4. Human Capital Theory I Daniel Bell The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting (1973) Other exponents: Alan Touraine The Post-Industrial Society Other terms Information Society New Economy Knowledge Economy

5. Human Capital Theory II Post-Industrial Society = a society where industrial manufacturing declines as a result of the rapid growth in the service and information sectors. The Factory ? the Archetype of Work. The Factory Worker ? the Core Worker ‘The University . . . becomes the primary institution of the new society’, D. Bell, The Public Interest, 6, 1967, p. 30.

6. Human Capital Theory III Work is generally becoming more skilled The classic semi-skilled worker that formed the corner-stone of the industrial era [Fordism] has been replaced by professional and technically skilled workers [Post-Fordism]. Workers invest in human capital in the form of education and training

7. Stage Model of Economic Development Primary : Agriculture Secondary : Manufacturing [Industry] Tertiary : Services Industrial Society: the majority work in manufacturing. Post-Industrial Society: the majority work in Services.

8. Model of Post-Industrialism

9. Knowledge Economy Giddens: ‘A Knowledge Economy is one in which much of the workforce is involved not in the physical production or distribution of material goods, but in their design, development, technology, marketing, sale and servicing’, Sociology [4th Edition], 2001, p378. ‘An economy in which ideas, information, knowledge underpin innovation and economic growth’ [ibid]. ‘Knowledge economy is dominated by the constant flow of information, and by the powerful potentials of science and technology’ (ibid).

10. Compensatory Theory of Skill: Overall Orientation I Industrial capitalist society involves a structured conflict between capital and labour. This conflict is fundamentally asymmetric because of the essential characteristic of industrial capitalism: the separation of the producer from the means of production as a result of capitalist ownership rights. These conflicts take various forms. The two most central involve conflicts over wages (the distribution of the surplus) and the organisation of the division of labour (the 'managerial prerogative').

11. Compensatory Theory of Skill: Overall Orientation II Such conflicts over wages and the managerial prerogative take place within variable structures. One key element in these variable structures of asymmetric conflict is the nature and structure of the spatial organisation of employers and employees. These conflicts over wages and over authority relations are both economic and normative. Issues of legitimacy are central to both sets of relationships. A major factor in the actual relationship between employers and employees is the pattern of collective organisation of both parties. Such collective organisation can vary both spatially and historically.

12. Compensatory Theory of Skill: Overall Orientation III The theory was developed at Lancaster University during the 1970s and 1980s Key publications included: Skilled Workers in the Class Structure, Cambridge University Press, 1985. Class, Power and Technology, Polity Press, 1990. Skill and Occupational Change, Oxford University Press, 1994. Articles listed in Appendix A

13. Trends in Skilled Work: 3 Models Summarized

14. An Aside: Status Ambiguities within the Division of Labour Grounded in the Occupational Sociology of the Chicago School [Symbolic Interactionism]. E. Hughes Men and their Work (1958) especially chapter 3 Work and the Self and chapter 9 The Making of a Physician. H Becker Boys in White (1961). R Gold ‘Janitors vs. Tenants: a Status-Income Dilemma’, American Journal of Sociology, LVII, 1952. G Fine Kitchens (1996)

15. Hughes and his Colleagues IN THE Chicago School Emphasized: Centrality of work for identity This is both external and internal ‘dirty work . . . is formed in all occupations’ and leads to feelings of shame and ‘status pain’. 1970s: Hierarchy of Telephone Maintenance Work Installation of phones and fault-finding and repairs inside homes Outside fault-finding and repairs Laying down main cables/erection of telephone poles and wiring. - Hierarchy = function of pleasantness and cleanliness and possibilities of interaction with the public

16. Hughes and his Colleagues in the Chicago School Emphasized: Centrality of work for identity This is both external and internal ‘Dirty work….is formed in all occupations’ and leads to feelings of shame and ‘status pain’.

17. The Project I A comparison of the skills of the telephone technician over a period of 20 years. Benchmark was personal experience in the occupation 20 years before. Major source was personal observations and memories [akin to oral history]. These were tri-angulated with tape- recorded open- ended, semi- structured interviews with older, experienced technicians.

18. The Project II Observations and interviews in the field with telephone technicians 20 years on. These were supplemented by a literature review and the collection of data on the changing organizational structure of BT [the telephone company].

19. Telephone Maintenance Workers in the Early 1970s I Highly skilled workers who required extensive training and continuous retraining. Training conceptually complex and technologically sophisticated. Skills developed as different cabling systems introduced. Left very much on their own to perform maintenance work [Responsible Autonomy].

20. Telephone Maintenance Workers in the Early 1970s II Mostly unsupervised. Assumed to take care in their work, with a considerable degree of commitment to performing a ‘good job’. Very similar to other Skilled Workers [see Penn Skilled Workers in the Class Structure, 1985 and Class, Power and Technology, 1990 especially chapter 6 ‘Socialization into Skilled Identities’]. Both of these are on my webpage in pdf form.

21. Telephone Maintenance Workers in the Early 1970s: Hierarchy of Work In the 1970s there had been a clear hierarchy within telephone maintenance work 1. Installation of phones and fault-finding inside homes 2. Outside fault-finding and repairs 3. Laying down main cables/erection of telephone poles and wiring The hierarchy was a function of the pleasantness and cleanliness + possibilities of interaction with the public.

22. Cleanliness: A Central Ambiguity I As skilled manual workers, telephone maintenance workers were akin to plumbers, electricians, pipefitters and carpenters [they wear overalls, get dirty on occasions and were ‘blue-collar’] As technicians they read diagrams and repaired fualts within a complex and esoteric technological environment As technicians they would come to work in light-coloured trousers, ordinary shoes and summery shirts.

23. Cleanliness: A Central Ambiguity II Receive details of fault. Go to exchange and assess situation. Narrow down fault: enter the system [either via a junction point or by digging a hole in the ground]. Only with physical labour of this kind (often very dirty) would they don their overalls and boots. They would never enter a home, business, pub or café wearing such clothing but would change back into their original clothing.

24. Fault-Finding: A Complex Set of Skills Technical: Understand the System and the Diagnostic Equipment. Training Courses. Different generations of cabling: lead to fibre optic. Experience: Knowledge of the underground and over ground system of cables. Social: Ability to network with other telephone maintenance workers about the likely factors at work with difficult faults.

25. Attitudes to Management Traditional wariness of skilled manual workers. Responsible autonomy: a pattern of compromise between management and telephone engineers involving a degree of ‘indulgence’ [cf A. Gouldner Wildcat Strike, 1955] coupled with periodic tightening up. Telephone engineers expected to be left alone but also recognized a commitment to perform a certain amount of work.

26. Research Questions in 1989 I What had been the effects of technical changes upon the job skills of telephone maintenance engineers since the early 1970s? Had there been any changes in the monitoring of telephone engineers? These could have included: two-way radios daily norms for fault rectification payment-by-results What effects had the privatisation of British Telecom had on managerial styles, work content and traditional patterns of indulgence?

27. Research Questions in 1989 II What had happened to the ambiguous status of telephone engineers with one foot on either side of the manual-nonmanual divide? How far was the picture of deskilling portrayed by Braverman and by Martin an accurate description of the trajectory of skilled activities within telecommunications? Null Hypothesis: Nothing much had changed [If so, could be the result of a variety of factors: nature of the work per se/effective monopoly supplier

28. Results Bifurcation of maintenance function Business Customers (most profitable) Domestic Customers Creation of new Business Services Division for Maintenance.

29. Technical Change: Local Network [Domestic] Fibre Optic Cabling ? Fewer Joints Traditional Joints Rewrapped in Pre-Shrunk Sleeves that were highly resistant to damp. Test Equipment more accurate Easier access to man-holes Crimps more robust and more water resistant Overall expansion of skills required: this was mainly the result of different generations of cabling and jointing [lead plug, epoxy resin and fibre optic joints]

30. Technical Change: Business Systems Elite group – special clothing, take vehicles home at night, not required to sign in at exchange Highly autonomous workers Much of their work had been routinized by advent of modular electronic business exchanges

31. Technical Change: Business Systems Fault repair = changing fault cards [micro-circuits Diagnostic equipment = easier to operate Many diagnostic skills only used intermittently [@10% of faults]. Routinization of job skills disliked.

32. Status Ambiguities ‘Image Clothing’ accentuated the differences in statuses Business Services: suits/blazersand a BT car Local Network: specially designed boots, plus a BT jumper [still had to to change for dirty work such as digging]

33. Overall Conclusions I Considerable training and experience still required to undertake the work effectively Bifurcation: paradoxically, the more glamorous work in Business Systems had become more routinized than in the Local Network Distinct asymmetry in trajectories of change: in Business Systems, skilled activities more intermittent whilst in Local Network traditional skills had expanded somewhat and were in more continuous use

34. Overall Conclusions II Nonetheless, as far as workforce were concerned, Business Systems was the more desirable section of telephone maintenance work. The opportunity to avoid manual work outweighed the likely intermittent use of specialized technical skills. Little evidence to support either Braverman’s or Martin’s claims that maintenance work was becoming less skilled. Indeed, their approach ignores the subjective significance of work and thereby almost entirely misconceives the situation described above.

35. Appendix A: Key Articles in the Development of the Compensatory Theory of Skill I ‘Skilled Manual Workers in the Labour Process, 1856-1964’, in S. Wood (ed), The Degradation of Work? Skill, Deskilling and the Labour Process (London, 1982), pp.90-108. ‘The Contested Terrain’: a critique of R.C. Edwards’ theory of working-class fractions and politics’, in D. Dunkerley and G. Salaman (eds), The International Yearbook of Organisation Studies 1981 (London, 1982), pp.183-94 ‘Trade Union Organisation and Skill in the Cotton and Engineering Industries in Britain, 1850-1960’ Social History, January 1983, pp.37-55. ‘Theories of Skill and Class Structure’, Sociological Review, February 1983, 31, 1, p.22-38. ‘The Course of Wage Differentials between Skilled and Nonskilled Manual Workers in Britain between 1856 and 1964’, British Journal of Industrial Relations, March 1983, pp69-90. ‘Skilled Workers and Automation in Contemporary Britain’, Automation, February 1985, 8-9. .

36. Key Articles in the Development of the Compensatory Theory of Skill II ‘Deskilling or Enskilling? An Empirical Investigation of Recent Theories of the Labour Process’(with vol. XXXVI, no.4, December 1985, pp.611-30 ‘Socialisation into Skilled Identities: an Analysis of a Neglected Phenomenon’, Journal of Interdisciplinary Economics, vol 1, 1986, pp163-73. ‘The Development of Skilled Work in the British Coal Mining Industry 1870-1985’ (with R. Simpson), Industrial Relations Journal , vol.17, 4, Winter 1986, pp.339-49. ‘Where Have All the Craftsmen Gone? Trends in Skilled Labor in the United States of America since 1940’, British Journal of Sociology, vol.XXXVII, 4, December 1986, pp.569-80. ‘The Attitudes and Responses of Trades Unions to Technical Change: A Case Study of Maintenance Workers in the North West of England (with B. Wigzell), Journal of Interdisciplinary Economics, vol.2, 1987, pp.3-22.

37. Key Articles in the Development of the Compensatory Theory of Skill III ‘Continuity and Change in Skilled Work’ (with H. Scattergood), British Journal of Sociology, vol.XXXVII, 4, 1988, pp.69-85. ‘Changes in the Differentials of Engineering Workers since 1979: an Analysis of Earnings Data from Rochdale’ (with R.B. Davies and A. Martin), Journal of Interdisciplinary Economics, vol.2, no.3, 1988, pp.199-213. Cambiamento tecnologico e organizzazione del lavoro nell’Inghilterra contemporanea’ [Technology and Work Organization in Contemporary Britain], Sociologia del Lavoro, vol.35-36, 1989, pp.51-93. Skilled Maintenance Work at British Telecom’, New Technology, Work and Employment, Autumn, 1990, 135-44. ‘Technical Change and the Division of Labour in Rochdale and Aberdeen: Evidence from the Social Change and Economic Life Initiative’ (with A. Gasteen, H. Scattergood and J. Sewel), British Journal of Sociology, 43, 4, December 1992, pp.657-680.

38. Key Articles in the Development of the Compensatory Theory of Skill III The SCELI Skill Findings’ in R. Penn, M.J. Rose and J. Rubery (eds), Skill and Occupational Change, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1994, pp.1-37. ‘Technical Change and Skilled Manual Work in Contemporary Rochdale’, in R. Penn et al (eds), Skill and Occupational Change, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994, pp.107-129. ‘Towards a Phenomenology of Skill’ (with B. Francis) in R. Penn et al (eds), Skill and Occupational Change, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1994, pp.223-243. ‘Changing Patterns of Work in the British Textile Industry’, Journal of the Textile Institute, 86,1,1995,pp167-172. ‘Flexibility, Skill and Technical Change in UK Retailing’ The Service Industries Journal, 15,3, July, 1995, pp.229-242. Reprinted in Retail Employment G. Akehurst and N. Alexander (eds) London : Frank Cass, (1996), pp.171-184.

39. Key Articles in the Development of the Compensatory Theory of Skill IV ‘Skilled Work in Contemporary Europe : A Journey into the Dark’ (with D. Sleightholme) in Dittrich, E., Schmidt, G. and Whitley, R. (eds), Industrial Transformation in Europe, London: Sage, 1995. ‘Social Exclusion and Modern Apprenticeship: A Comparison of Britain and the USA’, Journal of Vocational Education and Training, Vol.50, No.2, 1998, 259-275, ISSN 1363-6820. ‘The Dynamics of Decision-Making in the Sphere of Skills’ Formation’, Sociology, 33, 3, August 1999, pp.619-638. ‘Lavoratori della conoscenza ed abilità professionali: paradossi all’interno della divisione contemporanea del lavoro’ Sociologia del Lavoro, 70-71, 1999, pp 127-140, ISBN 8846413601. ‘Una rassegna dei più importanti temi di ricerca nella sociologia del lavoro in Gran Bretagna’ Sociologia del Lavoro, 76, 2000, pp100-108, ISBN 884641926X.

40. Key Articles in the Development of the Compensatory Theory of Skill V ‘Skills Issues in Other Business Services – Professional Services’, Skills Task Force Research Paper 16, Department for Education and Employment, London, 2000, SKT21 RR155. ‘Il Paradosso del Lavoro Moderno nell’Inghilterra di Oggi’ Sociologia del Lavoro, 100, 2006, ISBN 88-164-7268-3.

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