The future of work organisation, requirements of workers in the next century, training and the multicultural workforce. Bill Mansfield, ACTU Assistant Secretary.

1 Introduction


1.1 The last fifteen years in Australia has witnessed the most significant transformation of our workplaces and our economy in the history of this country. We have commenced the process of moving from an inward looking economy, basically internationally uncompetitive in manufactured goods and services, with highly regulated markets, antiquated labor relations and obsolete work organisation and training practices, to an economy which is open, competitive and leading edge in the essential elements of its operations.


1.2 In opening up the Australian economy, short of some unexpected catastrophe, there is now little prospect of turning back to our old ways. There is an international effort being made to free up world trade, to eliminate trade barriers, such as tariffs and quotas and to reduce national regulations which restrict competition. Overall, if we manage it correctly and use the advantages we have in Australia the new situation will be to our advantage. Our economy will grow faster, our employment levels will be higher and living standards will be better than they would otherwise be.

2. Trends Shaping The Future Of Work Organisation

2.1 One key factor in the process of change will be our approach to people, the way in which we develop their skills and utilise them in workplaces.


2.2 In considering the issue of the trends which are shaping the workplace of the 21 st century three of the most important factors are


i] Firstly, commercial success and meeting customer needs

ii] Secondly, technological change

iii] Thirdly, changed expectations and demands by employees for careers and satisfying jobs


2.3 Essentially any form of work organisation has got to deliver a competitive enterprise. And, as part of that, it has to give high quality service to the customer. In the past through a combination of Tayloristic work organisation involving close supervision and all decision making authority to management, along with narrowly defined work classifications there was little opportunity for employees in enterprises to fully contribute their knowledge and skills as to how the enterprises could perform better. In future, enterprises which do not facilitate the involvement of employees in how the organisation can improve are not going to be as competitive or as commercially successful as those that do.


2.4 In a 1990 speech dealing with the way in which ICI was re-addressing its approach to work organisation and the involvement of people the then Managing Director of ICI, Mr. Michael Deeley, said in part


“Where people have control over their jobs, where they have freedom to act and the ability to influence their working environment, they have job satisfaction – and, what is more, they have an outlet for their creativity.


Now the average Australian manager is likely to scoff at the notion of worker creativity, but consider the Japanese case again : the Toyota motor corporation processes 5,000 suggestions a week from their workforce, most of them from the shopfloor, on ways to improve production and product. Over 90 per cent of the suggestions are implemented. I dare say there is not a management in Australia which has received 5,000 such suggestions in a decade, perhaps even a lifetime.


We’re working to establish workplace cultures which will give employees the opportunity to participate in all the processes of the company. We’re also trying to develop cultures in which they will want to participate.


What is ICI doing?


Training and career paths for all employees – salaried and Award, trades qualified employees, and production employees.


The days when clear limitations were placed on people’s career aspirations, irrespective of their ability or their ambition, are over.”


2.5 The direction being taken by the ICI company is an indication of the recognition of the need to improve skills, involvement and quality at all levels of the organisation.


2.6 The other dimension of ongoing viability of enterprises is that they focus on customer needs and give the customers what they want – increasingly this is becoming more demanding as customers insist upon higher and higher standards of quality and reliability, lower cost, greater responsiveness to meet JIT stockholding and greater customisation of the end product to meet customer needs and preferences. All of these factors will require higher level skills at lower levels in the workforce, greater involvement in issues such as quality standards and process improvement, and more participation in the way the organisation operates.


2.7 In terms of how new work organisation impacts on workers, management and productivity, a recent illustration is from the application of Best Practice to the General Electric Company in Australia.


The Shop Steward said


“National Union of Workers (NUW) Shop Steward, Peter Price says union members believe that workplace redesign is the way to go. He says,’We do have a hard time accepting change, including the middle management side of the company. We have lived in an autocratic system for decades so this sort of radical change doesn’t come overnight.


‘I feel the shop floor people are ready to take on more responsibility, with the right training, which has been a big commitment by the company. Working in teams is the way to go as nobody likes their boss watching over them, especially when they possibly know the job better than their boss’.”


The Managing Director said


“Geoff Dale says, ‘if we have better understanding of customer requirements we will become a far more competitive and effective organisation.”‘


But in terms of output the company has really prospered. Geoff says, ‘We produce today, in one day, with three shifts, double what we produced three years ago with a four shift system and with 25 per cent less staff.”


2.8 The second factor shaping the workforce of the future is the application of technology. Microprocessor based computer technology is continuing in expanding its applications at amazing speed. Each year the technology does two things – it becomes significantly more powerful and it becomes cheaper. To illustrate with a practical example of popular technology the mobile telephone. A top of the range Ericcson digital mobile body costs $1,500 – by 1997 or 1998 this is expected to fall to $250.


2.9 A new dimension of the application of technology is what is referred to as the information superhighway – this is a proposal, still on the drawing boards, to re-cable Australia to every home and business with optical fibre and co-axial copper cable to allow initially cable TV but then to also allow for inter-active services such as substantial expansion of access to information, opportunities for vocational training through video technology, home shopping, home banking, home gambling and a range of other applications including, of course, working from home.


2.10 Inevitably with technology being applied to our economic activity the trend for manufacturing to employ a reducing proportion of the workforce will continue. Just as in the last century agriculture which employed probably 25-30% of the workforce in 1894, whereas it now employs around 3-4%, manufacturing will reduce from around 16% as it now is to some lesser figure. However, it will continue to be an important part of our economy but it won’t employ an expanding proportion of the workforce. Most workers in the future, just as now, will be in the service sector – retail, the public service at local, State, national levels, finance, travel and hospitality, transport and personal services are examples of the major areas of growth in the service sector. However in their work they will also be interacting with computer technology on a daily basis in helping to make decisions, in providing data to information systems, in obtaining feedback on how trends are shaping and so forth. There will be a need to become as comfortable and familiar with computer technology as we are with manual files and systems of today.


2.11 The third area influencing future work organisation will be changing expectations of employees. In a number of industries and lower level occupations the past practice of employers has been to offer little opportunity to have a career by way of skill development and opening up positions at higher. levels. In the past unions have not usually been active in endeavouring to improve this situation. With employees having low skills and low levels of secondary education there was little pressure for change. However we are now in a radically new situation.


2.12 Firstly, around 80% of school leavers now have Year 12 qualifications compared to 35% ten years ago. Secondly, it is also now very much on the union agenda. Unions recognise that training, qualifications and career opportunities will mean substantial improvement in an employee’s job security, and income level throughout a working lifetime. Employers can expect to have these matters raised by unions in Enterprise Bargaining.

3. Requirements Of Workers In The Next Century

3.1 The workplace of the next century will be one where there will be a greater involvement of employee in the operation their enterprises, supervision will be lessened, there will be greater availability of computer technology to undertake the work which has to be done, and in the larger enterprises there will be much more clearly defined skill development and career paths. We have started down that path but we still have some distance to travel and we are behind international standards.


3.2 By illustration of the need for change in Australia’s approach to the use of people in the workplace there are some interesting results coming from a major study being undertaken by the Australian Manufacturing Council. The study is examining the use and effect of the application of Best Practice management in Australia. Basically the initial results have shown that the companies which are undertaking Best Practice management in a comprehensive and serious manner to measure their performance in areas such as cost, quality, technology, customer service, processes and human resources are those which are achieving the best results commercially, and are maintaining or expanding their employment. However when the study measured the Australian approach to Best Practice in the Human Resources area against best international practice we were just over 50% of international levels in terms of our likelihood to include Human Resources in Best Practice benchmarking. These results provide a general indication of the low priority given to this area in the past and the need for change in the future.


3.3 In making the changes to work organisation and production processes the worker of tomorrow will be starting from a higher skill base than has been the case in the past. Nearly all new entrants will come to the workplace with Year 12 qualifications. There will also be a number of “key competencies” which they will acquire such as:



  • Understanding technology
  • Working with others and in teams
  • Communicating ideas
  • Using information
  • Planning and organising activities
  • Using mathematical ideas and techniques
  • Solving problems



3.4 Recent expert reports of Finn, Mayer and Carmichael have all endorsed the need for key competencies to be acquired in school years 11 and 12 or during vocational training for young people who leave school prior to completing Year 12. State Governments are still considering what their final positions will be on the “key competency” issue.


3.5 Increasingly Australia is coming under competitive pressures from lower wage economies. Countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Korea, China and Thailand are industrialising at a fantastic rate. We have a number of competitive advantages in terms of stable governments, relative absence of corruption, a relatively efficient public infrastructure, good education system and a supply of skilled labor so we can compete in many cases despite the labor cost differential. However one of the competitive of skilled labor] we need to build on and make significant further gains before the year 2000.

4. Implications For Training

4.1 Basically the direction which the Finn, Mayer and Carmichael reports mentioned earlier are pointing towards a substantial upgrading of our vocational skills base by the year 2001. This would involve:


i] All young people acquiring key competencies

ii] Nearly all young people obtaining structured vocational training on entering the workforce to the ASF Level 2 standard

iii] A significantly higher proportion than at present [around 60%] obtaining ASF Level 3 standards

iv] A national consistent approach to vocational training based on national industry competencies with recognised courses and elements of courses available either on or off the job throughout a working lifetime.


4.2 Overall there is a major reform being undertaken in the vocational training area. I regret to say however that to anyone who has attempted to become familiar with it, the Training Reform Agenda [TRA] is unnecessarily complex and bureaucratic. We have taken a relatively straightforward objective and turned it into a foreign language with a series of hurdles which has resulted in industry effectively ignoring the need for training reform in many areas.


4.3 The one ray of hope to get the TRA seriously back on track is the current ANTA review of the implementation of training reform. It has confirmed the complexity and bureaucracy problems and basically proposed to:


i] Give industry more authority in developing and endorsing competency standards

ii] Simplify the administration of the TRA process by bringing together the NTB, ACTRAC, NFROT and other responsibilities into a single body under the ANTA Board.

iii] Introduction of a user choice system for the provision of vocational training whereby the user [employer/employee] determine the provider and once that choice is made public funds flow

iv] Support the full introduction of the AVC over the period 1995/96.


4.4 All of these improvements are necessary if the TRA is to achieve the results which are required by the end of the decade. One special change which is required however is that industry [that is representatives of employers and employees] must take a stronger position in determining the changes at the national level. ANTA is a good start and we need to ensure that the days when providers and officials dominated the debates are behind us. The future must be an industry let partnership of industry, providers and governments.


4.5 The areas where we need to make big gains in vocational training over the next few years are:


i] Extend it to non traditional areas – retail, finance, clerical, hospitality/tourism


ii] Extend it to non traditional recipients – lower skills, females, NESB


iii] Make sure it is nationally consistent, nationally recognised and able to articulate to higher levels


iv] Base it on industry developed competency standards


4.6 If we are to effectively deliver high quality goods and services in the future we need high quality people. We will only get those people through relevant vocational training building on a good level of general education.

5. The Needs Of The User Of Training

5.1 In terms of defining clearly what the user requires of vocational training firstly we need to acknowledge there are three major users – the direct employer, the trainee and the community at large. Each has a stake in the training provided. The one essential element in allowing the industry parties to define their needs of course a competency based approach to vocational training.


5.2 In the recent ANTA review the competency based approach to vocational training was comprehensively endorsed. This of course involves the industry parties prescribing the competencies which are required for the work which is undertaken in an industry or enterprise and then relating those competencies to an 8 level framework of competency standards – the Australian Standards Framework. Whilst the competency standards approach has been endorsed the ASF was the subject of suspicion and criticism by employers who, in some cases, wanted to abandon it. The ACTU/unions and employer bodies have recently reached a draft agreement on the TRA and industrial relations issues. It basically accepts that the ASF process is not to be used in a simplistic way for wage fixing purposes and that whilst skills are relevant for wages and value, unless otherwise agreed, wages are paid for skills used not skills acquired. That agreement will be made public shortly. It has been endorsed by the ACTU Executive and we await endorsement from employer bodies.


5.3 One area where training is likely to change in the future is in the area of provision. To date the vast bulk of our vocational training has been provided through the public providers [TAFEs] and on-the-job. Private providers are growing but are still a small part of the overall system.


5.4 The “user choice” approach outlined earlier may well change the balance of provision by adding a competitive element into the system. If a provider is not responsive to the needs of a user then the user can shop around the provider will lose income. In my view TAFE will emerge from “user choice” stronger and more relevant than before.


5.5 On a broader basis technology is also going to have an impact on vocational training delivery. Employers do not want employees to go out of the workplace for vocational training unless it is absolutely necessary. Interactive touch screen communications can now deliver quality information and seems likely to have a major impact in the vocational training area generally, not simply for those in remote areas. With touch screen technology users can go though a training course and proceed quickly over the issues where they are already competent and go deeper into the detail of the issues where greater understanding is necessary. It seems to me that this technology will have a big influence on delivery of vocational training in the future.

6. Multicultural Workforce

6.1 Finally I want to mention the needs of a multi cultural workforce. We must acknowledge the right of all employees to achieve their potential. We have to more adequately than before apply resources to give the hundreds of thousands of employees from non English speaking backgrounds the standards of literacy, numeracy and other key areas which will enable them to participation the vocational training opportunities of the future.


6.2 In 1992 Brake and Clutch a significant and progressive company in Melbourne undertook a survey of 224 of its migrant workers. The results on literacy are quite devastating:



  • 63% had reading skills below minimum survival proficiency
  • 79% had writing skills below survival level
  • 85% could not read a simple 5 paragraph article
  • 41% could not understand the sign Keep Walkways Clear
  • 88% had no comprehension of the sign Soak Spills With Kitty Litter Not Sawdust



6.3 When asked to write a sentence containing those words:



  • 28% could not write Stop
  • 71% could not write Plant
  • 58% could not write Shift



6.4 When asked to write a sentence containing those words:



  • 28% could
  • 44% produced errors
  • 28% could not even attempt the process



To Brake and Clutch’s credit they have been attempting to address this problem by providing English language services in their plant.


6.5 In addition, to addressing deficiencies in key competency areas they, along with all other experience workers, must have an effective mechanism for assessment of competencies acquired through workplace and personal experiences – many employees are working at ASF Level 3 and above and demonstrating competence at that level. That need to be effectively recognised without undue bureaucratic hurdles and expense and qualifications issued of equal stature to those who acquire competencies through more structured avenues.


The workplace of tomorrow must be different from today:



  • commercial pressures will be stronger




  • employees will be more participative, better educated, use more initiative, be more involved, work in teams, have less close supervision




  • maximise the potential of all employees




  • greater importance of quality, customer service, responsiveness and technology will require more substantial structured vocational training




  • employees/unions will seek more opportunities for careers/participation/training




  • vocational training needs to be industry driven and made more straightforward with its introduction






Bill Mansfield Assistant Secretary, ACTU. IIR Cost Effective Industry Training Through Flexible Deliver Conference, Sydney. 5/9/1994