ABSTRACT

Work practices have evolved over time to suit the types of work most predominant during each era. Apprentice-style work was dominant from the late Middle Ages through the sixteenth century when learning a craft, such as ironsmithing or weaving, took years to master. However, a more structured model for work emerged in the Industrial Revolution; thanks to the technology that enabled the advent of assembly lines, entrepreneurs rejected the apprenticeship model and innovated to break work down into repeatable, easy-to-learn components. The assembly line was a major transformation brought about by the Industrial Revolution and manual labour became easier to train and manage. Frederick Taylor was among the management innovators in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His system, called scientific management, famously broke down work movements to determine the most efficient, sustainable and productive methods to complete the work, which he termed the ‘best way’ (Taylor, 1911, p. 109). Taylor’s methodology removed the thinking parts of the job from the workers and placed this responsibility firmly with the managers. The managers would do ‘due diligence’ to scope out all of the required work tasks as well as the best way to complete each task in advance and the workers would be paid based on volume of work completed. Using this system, workers could earn more and productivity would be maximised for the business, which was advantageous for both parties. During the twentieth century, however, our work radically changed from the predominant manual work form to more knowledge-based work. Peter Drucker, another management innovator, coined the term ‘knowledge worker’ in the 1950s. By the 1970s, around 40 per cent of American and Canadian workers were doing work in the information sector (Pyöriä, 2005). Correspondent to this, education levels dramatically rose during the twentieth century. In the early 1900s, the U.S. high school graduation rate was around 6 per cent. By the end of the century,

the high school graduation rate hovered around 70 per cent, with nearly half of those graduates going on to earn college degrees (U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, 2011). Despite the rise in education levels of workers today compared to 100 years ago, as well as the shift from manual to knowledge-based work, our workplace practices are still largely based on the principles of Taylor’s scientific management.