We all work on the network
Networks pervade the economy, changing the world of work
Training needs, types, and techniques are expanding and becoming more sophisticated, just like the network economy. The number of companies offering computer, soft skills, and management training has exploded. As the economy becomes even more wired, the need for training will increase. The Internet has fragmented the market for training companies and lowering the barriers for entry. The dot.com crash hasn’t stopped innovation in the training industry.
|Network technology accelerates that process.It took 30 years for mainframe computers to generate mega-industries that depended on them, but when personal computers were strung together in a global network, that network – the Internet – grew rapidly. It spawned billion dollar industries, such as online stock trading and Web auctions, that didn’t exist five years ago. Networks now pervade the economy, changing the world of work and training with it. A trucker now needs more than driving school; she must know how to log onto getloaded.com to find cargo that needs to be shipped, then be able to compose a clear email responding to the shipper. Training needs, types, and techniques are expanding and becoming more sophisticated, just like the network economy. Ever since the horse-drawn plough created crop surpluses that jumpstarted mercantile trading in medieval Europe, technology has driven economic change. London Business School professor Jeffrey Sampler explained how that works in his article in Netpreneur.org, “Find the Bottleneck and Own It.”|
He describes how the economy grew when technology was applied first to production, then distribution, and now consumption. Using that framework, let’s examine how technology has changed the economy, and training along with it.
The Past 100 Years
In the 1900s, economic growth occurred when technology was applied to production. Industrial technology allowed manufacturers, such as Ford Motor Company, to turn out products by the millions, sell them cheaply, and become the biggest employers around.
In the 1950s the fastest-growing sectors of the economy applied technology to distribution.
In 2000, technology became central to consumption. The Internet now allows customers to get more information, get it faster, and tell more people what they find.
Training into overdrive
Management guru Peter Drucker coined the term knowledge worker to describe people who work with their minds – not their hands – the people who do most of the jobs in the current economy. . But Drucker’s distinction between mental work and manual labour was drawn in 1994, before the Internet explosion, and it’s no longer valid. Consider the aforementioned Web-surfing trucker:
It’s apparent that even people who work with their hands must now be skilled in technology and communications. We’re all knowledge workers now.
The network economy makes the jobs of even factory workers more Internet-oriented. That can be seen in the printing industry. Printers with ink on their hands used to print runs of 10,000 identical books using huge mechanical Heidelberg presses. Not anymore. That’s because the book trade, like all markets, has fragmented into niches, accelerated by the Internet. In the past, 10,000 people would buy the same cookbook, but now 5,000 want New Age Cooking, 3,000 want The Buffalo Meat Cookbook, and 2,000 want Illustrated Vegetarian Delights.
Because large presses couldn’t print small runs economically, printers bought smaller presses, and Heidelberg saw sales decline. So, it teamed up with Xerox to create print-on-demand equipment–smaller, computer-controlled units that can print 50 books as cheaply as big mechanical presses print 5,000. Those print-on-demand machines require operators who know how to use computers and the Internet because a print-on-demand job might go something like this:
1-A publisher uploads the files for its new book, The Joy of Cooking Albanian, directly to the printing company’s Web server.
2-The print-on-demand machine operator logs onto the server and retrieves the book files, then sets up the machine to print 100 copies.
3-The publisher calls and asks to change the title to The Joy of Albanian Cooking.
4-The operator asks the company’s in-house layout designer to make the change, but he can’t get to it for a few hours.
5-The designer’s unavailability causes a problem. The books must be printed immediately to fill a bookstore order. (Rather than keep inventory in warehouses, the publisher has books printed and shipped directly to the store.) So, the operator bootsup her PC and layout program, changes the file, resends it to the machine, and prints the books.
Drucker may not have foreseen how network technology would blur the distinction between blue-collar and white-collar work, but in describing the training needs of knowledge workers, he was right on. He said, “They require…the ability to acquire and apply theoretical and analytical knowledge. They require a different approach to work and a different mindset. Above all, they require a habit of continuous learning.”
In the network economy, people are inundated with information. But humans aren’t as good as computers at processing large amounts of information. To make sense of it, information needs to be organised into small, related groups. That’s why books such as The Visual Learner’s Guide to Managing Web Projects and Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability have become popular. Those books teach that to build an effective Website, people must learn how to design the site’s layout and organise the information it contains. That’s why ECPI, a Virginia technical college, requires its Web students to study technical writing. Companies want to hire site builders who can structure information logically and present it in an organised way.
In the network economy, customers talk to companies, whose employees must talk back. A good example of that is in the broadcasting industry, in which the big networks find it increasingly difficult to drum up demand for products by showing ads to passive audiences. Why? Because the model of one-to-many broadcasting is giving way to many-to-many network communications. The Discovery Channel–and hundreds of cable channels like it-thrive by addressing a specific audience and communicating with it via the Internet. That requires more people to take on such tasks as moderating discussion groups and responding to queries from knowledgeable viewers. TV is now a high-effort, high-reward business, in which companies must train more employees to communicate clearly.
That’s great news for the training industry. Developing strong technology, analytical, and communications skills isn’t easy. It requires good training, and lots of it. That’s why the number of companies offering computer, soft skills, and management training has exploded in the past decade. That’s also why membership in professional associations saw an increase, and why associations are doing more training. Many people are turning to associations to help them undertake the continuous learning required in the network economy. As the economy becomes even more wired, the need for training will rise.Chris Charuhas is president of Visibooks, a computer book publishing company in Richmond, Virginia.
email@example.com | Knowledge Economy Zambia | Issue Seven, July 2012