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Re: The New Blue Collar

04/20/2010 2:04 AM

I do not agree with your stated position as a generality. Yes, there is merit to the idea of having machines do the work of humans. Automation of production machinery is an excellent example. In the machine shop promoting the skilled operator to doing his own setups and then creating the CNC machining programs is really just a modern version of the training of skilled machinists in the use of conventional machine tools. There was a time a couple of decades back when you had to be an engineer to program a numerical control machine tool. Now the new "machinist" can learn the setup and control of the new generation of machine tools as he advances in his career without having the training of a degreed engineer.

But in the world of work we see many other cases where the "empowerment" of workers means that they get the "privilege" of spending more than just some of their time doing work at well below their skill levels. This is an engineering forum; so I will cite an example where the sort of thing advocated in fact has very unrewarding effects.

Mechanical engineering in product manufacturing companies has in the last generation morphed into a largely sub professional activity in which a majority of time is spent drafting, technician, clerical and materials management activities that in times past were the duties of non-exempt staff. This has led to engineers being "empowered" to do themselves all the things needed to make their projects happen. So we have the picture of the exempt engineer spending days doing sub professional work and unpaid evenings and weekends doing creative and analytical work he/she trained for. Rather than feeling rewarded the engineer becomes ever more frustrated and embittered as his hard won but now unused analytical skills wither through short half lives and he now finds that he is really just a draftsman with an engineering degree.

Of course management likes this because they are able to lay off much of the engineering department staff including layers of management. The current enormous oversupply of degreed engineers supplemented by hundreds of thousands of H1B'shelps facilitate this.

So what we are seeing now is that the new "blue collar" worker will need an advanced degree in studies he/she will never use just to have a chance at being picked for a job. Even now we are seeing new health care workers like pharmacists and physical therapists with doctorate degrees. There is currently a bill in committee in the California Legislature to among other things allow these and many other skilled health care workers to use the title "doctor" professionally if they have earned a phD in that area of technology. (the state's physicians are not too happy about this).

You call this rewarding? ........Ed Weldon

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