Facing technical change with confidence

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Study investigates training and employment in office jobs

Office jobs are often the most up to date with technology, with new computer hardware and software becoming established here before it makes its way into other areas. At the same time, they also involve a high proportion of routine tasks, in other words repetitive jobs which have to be completed on a regular basis. Are office jobs therefore particularly under threat from technological change? A recent study by the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) and FAU shows that this is not the case. The study takes a detailed look at changes in office jobs since the 1980s and comes to the conclusion that employees are well prepared for technical change thanks to their training in these occupations. Office workers also consider themselves well placed to cope with the new challenges posed by technical advances.

According to the authors, the study is the first to emphasise the link between office workers’ subjective skills, experience and expertise (capacity for work) and the flexible nature of technical change. The way employees, companies and the education system embrace and actively use technical advances has a particularly significant effect on technological change.

Taking a constructive approach to changes in the workplace

According to the study, the complexity and demands of tasks office workers are expected to complete rose in the period between 2006 and 2018. At the same time, there was a reduction in routine tasks. The degree of autonomy, in other words the extent to which employees are able to take decisions and decide on their actions, is comparatively high in office jobs. Employees and former apprentices in these occupations take a constructive approach to change, complexity and uncertainties at their workplace and put the skills learnt from these experiences to use when dealing with technological change at work. The study makes it clear how flexible people trained in office jobs are when it comes to work and indicates the occupational areas they most commonly work in.

Between 1996 and 2017, there were approximately six million office workers, equivalent to approximately 13 percent of the entire workforce, with these figures currently slowly rising. Office jobs also account for a significant share of all apprenticeships. In 2017, just under 59,000 new apprenticeship contracts were concluded in this area, equivalent to a share of significantly more than 10 percent of all new apprenticeship contracts concluded that year. With new technical advancements being introduced into the office all the time, such as computers, e-mails or laptops, employees and companies have always had to be ready and willing to cope with change. In the training sector, the need to adapt to new ways of working has been reflected by the introduction of apprenticeships in new areas.

Office jobs are always changing

The study paints a comprehensive picture of change in office jobs over the last 40 years and is part of the projects investigating the connections between technological and societal change which have received funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Further information on the results of the study is available on the BIBB website. The apprenticeships taken into consideration in the study were for office-based jobs in the following areas: office management, industry, administration, social insurance, healthcare, human resources, law, and employment services.

Further information:

Prof. Dr. Sabine Pfeiffer
Chair of Sociology (Technology, Labour and Society) at FAU

Dr. Michael Tiemann


Addition information