Research Handbook on the Future of Work and Employment Relations
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Research Handbook on the Future of Work and Employment Relations

Edited by Keith Townsend and Adrian Wilkinson

The broad field of employment relations is diverse and complex and is under constant development and reinvention. This Research Handbook discusses fundamental theories and approaches to work and employment relations, and their connection to broader political and societal changes occurring throughout the world. It provides comprehensive coverage of work and employment relations theory and practice.
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Chapter 9: Skills in the Twenty-first Century Organization: The Career of a Notion

Anne Fearfull and Martin Dowling


9 Skills in the twenty-first-century organization: the career of a notion Anne Fearfull and Martin Dowling INTRODUCTION Engagement with the notion of skill (and the accompanying aspect of knowledge) has been both longstanding and wide-ranging. Indeed, ‘skill’ has often been used as a touchstone when analysing the character of, and changes in, both pre-and post-industrial societies and with regard to the nature of work and the employment relationship (see, for example, Laslett, 1965 and Braverman, 1974). In our chapter, we aim to contribute to the overall theme of this text by demonstrating how the issue of skill continues to be one of importance in those contexts. In doing so, we use existing literature and contemporary empirical commentary. However, we seek to go beyond that approach by drawing readers into reflection on the syntheses of theoretical notions surrounding skill and their applicability to the twenty-first century and to the analysis of the type of skills considered necessary in contemporary society (see, for example, OECD, 2009). With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, we can trace both academic and practitioner interest in the notion of skill from the time of Marx’s analysis of the nature of capital and the separation of ‘the worker’ from both the product and process of labour (1977). Subsequent developments, including Taylor’s Scientific Management (1911), and the atomization of the ‘whole job’, gave managers an enhanced means of control over the skills needed to undertake modern forms of work, the manner in which workers did their work and,...

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