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Facilitating Technological Change: The Human Resource Challenge.

Facilitating Technological Change: The Human Resource Challenge By Patricia M. Flynn. Cambridge, MA., Ballinger Publishing Co., 1988. 233 pp.

This book has the ambitious task of examining the impact of technological change on skill demands of jobs and the challenge for education. The goal and the analysis are likely to be familiar to most readers concerned with issues of technology, work, human resource development, and economic development strategies. What is unusual is the blending of different levels of analysis. First, Patricia Flynn reviews the literature and provides some context for this book.

Second, Flynn gives a secondary analysis of 197 case studies published between 1940 and the mid-1980's. These are studies of technological change in factory and office environments, a little more than one-half in the United States, the rest, foreign studies. The author provides an annotated listing of all of these research inquiries. While this is interesting, I see a flawed set of assumptions. There is at least an implicit belief in the continuity and constant character of technologies and their effects on the workplace over the five decades covered in the case studies. This seem illogical, because of the technology changes in the 1940's, early factory automation of the 1950's and 1960's, and the current microelectronics utilized represented in robotics, CAD/CAM and the microelectronic office represents vast changes in the nature of the technology itself, the breadth of application in factories and offices, and the resulting impact on work organization and the work force. Hence, when Flynn reviews the effect of technological change and employer strategies and responses to technology, the reader must consider the environment of the 1950's in Detroit versus the vast arena of microelectronic applications in the 1980's.

Many of the conclusions and analytical points are likely to be constant and apply equally today and in earlier times. But the variability and profound differences between microelectronics and the early stages of factory and office automation are lost in this aggregated analysis. I wish the author had addressed these issues, while searching for constants.

The third section of the book is an exploration of the Lowell, MA, economic revival and the consequences of an economic transition from traditional manufacturing into a new era of electronics manufacturing and related high tech industries. In this most interesting case study, Flynn details the features of the community and its transition, and then focuses on the effect on education. The issue is: what happens in the educational system as the community's economy is altered and the needs in a labor market are substantially modified? The author indicates the limitations of the Lowell economic case and that the transformation is unlikely to solve the economic woes of Detroit or Pittsburgh; nevertheless, the movement from traditional manufacturing into high technology industries is a common phenomenon and the case study is suggestive.

The conclusions which are drawn in the final chapter derive both from the analysis of 197 case studies of technological change over five decades, and the case study of Lowell. In that sense, the book is most unusual. It attempts to illuminate the issue of human resource development related to changing technology in the workplace and the economy. That is a critical question for the United States today, and the author provides considerable enlightenment and interesting analysis. How much the reader will be convinced that the mixed types of cases are the best foundation for such conclusions, I leave open and for each person to decide.

This book is part of a series offered by Ballinger Publishing Co., including Studies in Technological Change, Employment and Policy, edited by Richard Cyert and David Mowery. Ballinger is to be congratulated for providing this series on technology, work, and the economy. In the broader context of a growing literature, including others in the Ballinger series, this book makes a useful contribution and is interesting reading. -STEVEN DEUTSCH

Director, Center for the Study of Work, Economy & Community and Professor of Sociology University of Oregon
COPYRIGHT 1988 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Deutsch, Steven
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1988
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