Computerized Work and Changing Skill Demands

Awarded Scholars:
Richard J. Murnane, Harvard University
Project Date:
Jun 1998
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Future of Work



The wage gap between college and high-school graduates has widened by 50 percent in the past two decades, despite an increase in the relative supply of college graduates. This wage gap has grown across all industries, but it is widest in those industries with high rates of computer use and the highest rates of investment in computer technology. The computerization of work would seem to be an important cause of the shift in demand for skills, but it is less clear how and why this should be so. Various rationales are plausible: employers may be looking for fast learners to keep up with the pace of technological change; computers may be replacing some low-skilled jobs altogether; or computerization may create the need for new kinds of "people skills" to mediate between customers and an increasingly complex set of products and services.


Frank Levy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Richard Murnane of Harvard University received a grant for a series of case studies of how computerization-- in health care and financial services--remolds the content and skill requirements of jobs and the hiring and training strategies of employers. Through workplace observations, interviews with workers and managers, and the analysis of employment records, Levy and Murnane will construct a picture of each firm's workplace, personnel, and human resource policies before, during, and after the introduction of computers.


Levy and Murnane's case study findings will have important lessons for high schools, which must adapt to the changing skill requirements of employers. Levy and Murnane will develop educational case studies demonstrating how high schools can improve their teaching of computer-related skills and convince employers that high school graduates, like college graduates, are well-prepared for jobs in a computerized workplace.


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