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Rapid Growth of Quality Circles in Training and Development

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Between 1890 and 1920 the United States moved from a rural, agrarian-based economy to an urban, industrialized society. By 1918 all forty-eight states had enacted mandatory tax-supported school attendance for all children. Why?

A new relationship existed between the social and economic forces spawned by the U.S. Industrial Revolution. Schooling was found to be one of the best ways of inculcating such productive worker values as punctuality, respect for authority, quality work, and self-discipline. These were the essential work-ethic demands of the new twentieth-century, mass-production, urban society.

The tax-supported public school emerged through alliances of business, union, political, educational, and social reform associations. These diverse groups agreed that the American workplace needed people trained with greater general knowledge and better technical skills. The public schools would provide the functional context for teaching the elements of the mechanical arts and natural sciences needed for lifelong employment.

The ending of the Great Depression, with America's entry into World War II (1941-1945), sparked a reformulation of the OJT approach. America became the arsenal of democracy during World War II, defeating the Axis powers (Germany, Japan, Italy) with mountains of assembly line products. These tanks, guns, trucks, and jeeps all had mass-produced, interchangeable parts made by many different manufacturers, all of whom used assembly line training systems.

A train-the-trainer system called Job Instructor Training (JIT) was designed for first-line and second-line supervisors to support the expansion of assembly line production in the U.S. defense industry. More than 2 million supervisors received JIT or offshoot programs in job methods and human relations.

During the mass-production era (1915-1945) the workforce was composed of large numbers of unskilled men (and, for the first time, women), who were largely interchangeable and driven by machine pacing. Employment downturns occurred at the end of World War I and during the Great Depression. Layoffs were based on seniority. A machine technology clearly dominated. The training provided by business stressed functional expertise and administrative efficiency. Individual employee motivation was not considered an important factor in making this system successful.

The Cold War Era (1946-1992)

The United States emerged from World War II as the most powerful and prosperous nation on earth - a position it enjoyed until the 1990s. The technologies that had made America a world power were now exported overseas. A postwar baby boom helped ensure that the great industrial capacity built during the war years was retooled to support a large-scale, consumer-driven society. Management development was mobilized to meet these new complexities of production and distribution by using the military chain-of-command model, which included twelve layers of management.

By the early 1950s business training began to focus on supervisory development. This interest was directed, at least in part, by the rediscovery of Elton Mayo's Hawthorne studies, conducted in the late 1920s and early 1930s at the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric, near Chicago. This was the telephone manufacturing arm of AT&T, which then employed more than 40,000 workers. The Hawthorne studies led to the recognition that managers trained in leadership can influence human relations, thereby improving employee morale and personal motivation.

Later studies debated whether this "Hawthorne effect" was be-hind the achievement of desirable productivity goals. Additional research conducted during the 1950s by James Worthy, Charles Walker, and Robert Guest  documented the negative effects of repetitive, low-skilled, machine-paced work on employee morale and productivity.

For the first time in American history, the Engineering, Science and Management War Training program (ESMWT), established during World War II, and the GI Bill after the war, exposed millions of adults to college courses on almost every aspect of management, technology, psychology, and education. These continuing education and management training programs provided the impetus to the formation of the American Society for Training and Development (1944) and fueled the vast expansion of the American Management Association (founded in 1923). These organizations helped increase the popularity of off-site management and executive development programs. By the mid-1950s human resource development (HRD) had become a widely respected field. Training and development clearly emerged as a vital part of overall human resources. Training and development programs began to feature business games, "in-basket" exercises, simulations, and the extensive use of role-playing exercises.

The performance-based psychological theories of B. F. Skinner at Harvard University had a significant impact on training practices that were designed both to control human behavior and to bring about behavioral change. Training laboratories of the 1960s used behavior modification techniques, programmed instruction, teaching machines, and training hardware designed to shape and control desirable work-related behaviors.

The 1970s witnessed another behavioral application in HRD with the widespread growth of company assessment centers that "objectively" measured employee management potential. At the same time Malcolm Knowles stressed more humanistic-cognitive approaches to learning. He saw the role of the trainer as the facilitator of the learner's needs, rather than as the controller who sought to shape desired behaviors.

The concepts of organizational development (OD) also gained widespread support during the 1970s, interlinking all areas of business HRD. Organizational development shifted the focus of concern from developing people to one centered on the well-being and efficient operation of the entire organization.

Training and development in the 1980s witnessed the rapid growth of quality circles (based on Japanese models) throughout American business. Computer-based training and interactive video were introduced into many companies. They spread quickly with the increasing availability of personal computers (PCs) and appropriate software. However, entering the 1990s, their major limitation remained the lack of customized, inexpensive training and development software for specific company applications. Undoubtedly this issue will begin to fade as increasingly powerful PCs drastically reduce local software development costs.

Management development during the 1980s and early 1990s also saw the continued use of behavioral models of training. They were considered by many trainers and course designers as constituting the best practices for management development, technical, and educational training programs.

During the Cold War era (1945-1992), training and development programs characterized the workforce as groups of employees under a supervisor. Most workers were viewed as long-term, career-oriented community members. Business emphasized employment stability.
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