The Irresistible Move Toward Technology

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How will training professionals be employed as most U.S. businesses implement "the learning organization"? From 1980 to the mid-1990s corporate training departments have resembled a phoenix rising from its ashes, only to dissolve once again. The 1980s witnessed a steady growth in the number and diversity of professionals employed inside training departments. Starting salaries grew. Then the advent of business process reengineering reversed this trend. Companies began shedding trainers and transferring these functions to interim professionals.

Unlike the training consultants of the past, these interim employees are hired for a specific job, and then they are let go. Building an ongoing consulting relationship is not deemed very important. Businesses seek a precise fit of skills/knowledge to the training assignment, and the trend is for rapid "just-in-time training." Trainers must already know the content material and be up-to-date on the design options that make the most sense for a specific audience.

Continuing professional education will be the only means of survival for trainers, even after completing a master's or doctoral degree program. Why? Because ongoing, fundamental, high-tech change is driving the career process ever faster.

What types of adult training professionals will be needed in the workplace? Two trends are now emerging that seem to indicate important areas of growth: computers and critical thinking. High-tech computers and robotics are now creating a business revolution not about quality or flexibility, but about information. More and more powerful computers are linking matter and information. Future trainers will have a very compelling need to learn and understand a variety of business computer applications, such as computer-aided design (CAD). The Boeing 777 was the world's first commercial aircraft largely configured using CAD. CAD will become pervasive not just in manufacturing but throughout business. Workforce educators will need to master computer applications and how they can be applied to numerous business situations. As technology transforms shop floors, offices, and service areas, the workforce will require training in new sets of skills. But computers and robots cannot think. People need to be trained how to develop their critical thinking abilities to produce and use these technological innovations. Teaching critical-thinking strategies will become the second career opportunity for many trainers.

As the twenty-first century unfolds, organizations will require fewer workers, but those who remain must be able to perform at higher cognitive levels. Cognitive-based, critical-thinking skills will be needed by everyone in a business to better manipulate and understand information that leads to various business innovations.

What all this means to future workforce educators is that they will play a pivotal role in teaching these critical skills. CAD and other future technologies will be of little value unless the people using them can analyze, contrast and compare, and use combi national logic to determine a myriad of potential solutions and rank each one's applicability to a given situation. An adult trainer's personal occupational outlook will rest on an ability to enhance employee human potential to evolve, to create, to act on, and to process new information.

The high-tech nature of the twenty-first century and training in critical thinking have the potential of freeing the majority of workers from grunt labor. This is the future of careers in training.

It is exciting and it involves everyone-with trainers performing an essential function.


Over the past thirty years and into the next millennium, American business has undergone, and will undergo, a fundamental change in the concept of the manager. In the 1960s industry used traditional behavioral methods to teach skills to managers. Training was seen as a "technique, packages of behavioral techniques, gimmicks." Far too often complex management skills were reduced to a "ten-step process." Senior management vision was conferred downward and throughout the organization. Rewards were based upon how well individual managers followed this corporate culture driven from the top. Few mavericks or creative types were encouraged or tolerated.

The introduction of computers began to shift the emphasis to training groups of managers (department heads) in a systems approach that broadened their business knowledge. Organizational development for senior management was seen as a strategic tool to further this process at the top levels of business.

By the 1980s the new technologies were beginning to bypass middle-management and place daily decisions into the hands of first-line supervisors and even shop foreman or service super-visors. Often middle management became redundant, leading to much corporate downsizing. International competition was beginning to offer consumers far more product and service choices. Shorter, more diverse product runs and innovative service solutions began requiring, for the first time, that supervisors be trained to develop new approaches. Quality circles began to involve employees in the management development process. These programs were an additional response to the high-tech business pressures.


In the 1990s and well into the twenty-first century, world competitive business practices will require all organizations to do more with less. American business is fundamentally changing the way it manages itself in order to survive and prosper. Employee-empowered work teams are being trained across America to solve problems, think, and create new ideas. We predict that the artificial divisions between management and employees will continue to blur. Team leaders are needed to give direction, monitor, and challenge, but not wield, iron control.

The new organizational structure is flatter, with cooperation replacing fiefdoms and day-to-day business responsibility pushed down and throughout the organization. Traditional methods of evaluation and promotion are being replaced by compensation based on supporting the team's performance. For a company to gain a true competitive edge in the future, business decisions to develop the team's work abilities must come ahead of the quarterly bottom line.

This raises a large number of training issues as more and more managers, professionals, and technicians begin discovering their rapid technical obsolescence, even if they have had very advanced training. Estimates are that the engineer's education has a half-life of five years, meaning that half of what is learned in school is obsolete five years after graduation.

Other issues are driving American business toward far better employee education programs. The link between school and work needs to be established through direct business collaboration with colleges and secondary schools to prepare youth for new, emerging occupations. Severe shortages of skilled technical workers have begun, and will increase, unless American business adapts education models pioneered by European industry.

We need to better inform the public that high-skilled, high-tech jobs are highly paid jobs. When will American society begin to realize that the future of work means fewer and fewer managers and more and more skilled technicians?

At present too many college marketing, finance, and communications graduates are selling neckties in department stores. Our society has done a terrible job of disseminating high-tech career information to students and parents. We fail to offer America's youth a wider variety of successful adult role models other than those requiring a four-year college degree. Business must lead the charge to change society's attitudes regarding job models and success, or we will continue to experience significant skilled technical job shortages.

Globalization of the economy is encouraging more organizations to compete internationally. In 1991 the United States was the world's largest exporter, selling a record $422 billion in goods and $145 billion in services abroad. Each billion dollars of exported merchandise generates 20,000 jobs. One-third of America's economic growth in the past five years flowed from this surge in foreign sales. About 100,000 U.S. companies do business overseas, including 25,000 with foreign affiliates and 3,500 major multinational companies. One-third of U.S. corporate profits is derived from international business, along with one-sixth of America's jobs. A survey by Ernst & Young in 1993 saw a further globalization of American companies. Most indicated that their most significant market growth will take place outside the United States, in developing countries.

From a corporate education standpoint means that managers must learn to effectively select, train, and motivate a multicultural workforce. They must be able to communicate in different languages, "read" different cultures accurately, and work with and manage multicultural teams.
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