Jeremy Rifkin's The End of Work

Jeremy Rifkin's The End of Work

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Jeremy Rifkin's "The End of Work"

     Individuals tend to develop a false sense of security concerning the
certainty of their jobs. After working for an organization for fifteen or more
years, it is difficult for them to understand that their employers may no longer
need their service. Jeremy Rifkin wrote The End of Work in order to warn people
about what he foresees may be happening to the global labour force because of a
rapid increase in the use of automation in the workplace. He identifies what he
believes are causes of the problems which we are currently facing within the
organizational structure along with some potential solutions. Rifkin's ideas
may be relevant to most peoples lives including ours. The reactions of six
currently employed persons to Rifkin's message will be included in this text.
These professionals include a technical manager, a convenience store owner, a
cashier for Marriot food services, a Residence-Life Staff Coordinator, a Part-
Time Credit Card Service Assistant and an Assembler for an Electrical Switch-
Gear Manufacturing Company.

     Rifkin observes that the main problem of mass global employment in both
the private and public sectors is caused by the continuing advances in
technology and it's impacts on organizations, it's structure and design and it's
direct effect on the global labour force. In particular, organizations are
using the concept of re-engineering and replacing human labour with labour
saving technologies. Rifkin gives us a better understanding of the development
of the cause of this problem by examining the three industrial revolutions. In
the first industrial revolution, Rifkin identifies steam power as the major tool
used by industrial and manufacturing sectors. In the second industrial
revolutions the electrical innovation effected the manufacturing, agricultural
and transport industries by further reducing the global labour force.

     Unlike the past, two industrial revolutions where industrial
technologies replace the physical power of human labour, the third revolution
(The Information Age), at present, is contributing new computer based technology
which are involving into thinking machines. These thinking machines will evolve
to the extent that eventual the human mind will be replaced in all economic
activities. In particular, advancements in computer technology including
parallel processing and artificial intelligence (robots) are going to cause a
large number of white collar workers to be redundant in the near future.
Furthermore as a result of advancement in the information and telecommunications
technologies, organizations are using the concept of re-engineering to
restructure their organizations to make them more computer friendly. As a
direct result of this, training employees in multi-level skills, shortening and
simplifying production and distribution processes and streamlining
administration. One example of this is the global auto industry which is

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reengineering it's operation and investing in new labour displacing information
technology, related industries are doing the same, eliminating more and more
jobs in the process.

     It is Rifkin's belief that it is technology that is taking jobs away
from people. He includes many statistics concerning job loss, unemployment and
how much organizations are benefitting from all this, he states that "more than
75 percent of the labour force in most industrial nations engage in work that is
little more than simple repetitive tasks. Automated machinery, robots and
increasingly sophisticated computers can perform many if not most of these
jobs... in the years ahead more than 90 million jobs in a labour force of 124
million are potentially vulnerable to replacement by machines." (Rifkin p.5).
He shows us that this global unemployment effects those who are in agriculture
industry, "nearly half the human beings on the planet still farm and land. Now,
however, new breakthroughs in the information and life sciences threaten to end
much of outdoor farming by the middle decades of the coming century." (Rifkin
p.109). Just to show us how widespread this problem is, he includes information
concerning the downfall of those who work in the service industry "computers
that can understand speech, read script, and perform tasks previously carried
out by human beings foreshadow a new era in which service industries come
increasingly under the domain of automation." (Rifkin p. 143).

     Rifkin does, however have a few solutions to this dilemma. The first of
which demonstrates a 30-hour work week because "the information and
communication technology revolutions virtually guarantee more production with
less human labour... Free time will come, William Green said, the only choice
is unemployment or leisure." (Rifkin p.222). There are already organizations
which have implemented this 30-hour week, with great success. Employees must
take a small pay cut, but they remain employed and only have to work 75 percent
of their previous time. This solution allows for more people to be employed,
while giving those employed a larger amount of free time. Part of what Rifkin
says is that this free time should be spent volunteering for different causes
such as child care institutions, hospitals, churches and neighbourhood group

     Rifkin suggests that the government should encourage this advancement of
the third sector (eg. volunteers, non-profit organizations) by offering a
"shadow wage, in the form of a deduction on personal income taxes for volunteer
hours given." (Rifkin p.257). It has also been suggested that the government
issue a minimum social annual income so that non-profit organizations' employees
get an actual salary, this would eliminate welfare and because people are
devoting so much of their free time, it would allow the government to cut
spending on public works projects such as building low-income housing and city-
wide clean up projects (New York). The saved money would allow for the minimum
income earners to collect.

     Meanwhile, it has been suggested that a tax be put on all non-essential
goods and services as a source of government revenue. This shows us that the
government would play a smaller role in society as communities would begin to
become self-contained, also, huge cutbacks on national defence would add to the
governments budgets as employers. All these solutions would eventually be put
forth worldwide as automation takes over many positions in most organizations.

     One of the most important questions we ask our selves while reading this
book is "how does this effect our lives?" Well, there are a few parameters to be
taken in to consideration. First of all, is all of what Rifkin is suggesting
true? We have come to the conclusion that he may be partially right. We see what
he is suggesting (automation) happening all around us. For example, car washes,
direct payment by the use of our bank card and different machinery upgrades at
work. We feel that our future professions (lawyer, engineer and financial
analyst) will not be compromised by technological advancements because we are
going to be a part of what Rifkin refers to as the "knowledge sector."
Knowledge sector refers to those occupations which require further post
secondary education in the technology sector rather than manual type labour. On
the other hand, technology will aid us in our job performance, which includes
the efficiency and quality of our services. Information is now literally at our
fingertips, in the past, huge libraries containing volumes of books were
required for many different professions, these libraries have not disappeared,
but computers the size of a regular binder can hold just as much information.
This would facilitate research for many of those who will work, like us, in the
"Knowledge Sector."

     Current technological advancements may or may not effect the daily lives
of many individuals, six such individuals were interviewed for their responses
to Rifkin's message. Monique van den Wildenberg, the residence life coordinator
with the Residence Life staff (which is part of Carleton University Housing and
Food services), states that her work does involved technology ,but, not a
sophisticated level compared to other jobs such as the automotive industry. She
feels she is adequately knowledgeable about technology to make her job easier (
ie. Making posters and communicating with colleagues) but is not afraid that
technology will make her obsolete since her job is person to person job and no
computer or robot is able to replace the uniqueness of human communication and
contact. On the other hand, Wildenberg believes that technology has a potential
to create large percentage of unemployed individuals in the future, but, it is
up to the individual not the government too continuously learn and retrain so
they do not become outdated by technology.

     Mike Marriot working for Marriot food services does feel frustrated with
new technology introduced even though it has made his job easier and richer. He
knows that his organization could have spent half million dollars too
implemented a technology that would have eliminated his current duties.
Furthermore, Marriot believes that Rifkin has some substance in this ideolology
that technology will create a higher unemployment rate, but, it is up to the
individual and the organization to re-train, understand and cope with technology
advancement. "Technology is only as good as the people who are using it" says
Mike Marriot.

The relevance of Rifkin's main message and the expressed opinions of the
following two currently employed workers was found to be inconclusive. The
third person interviewed, currently, works as an assembler for a electrical
switchgear manufacturing company, a blue collar job. About a year and a half
ago his previous employer laid him off due to company downsizing. The position
that he held in that company was a management position. Specifically, he was a
manager for the assembly section of the high voltage switchgear division. He had
held the position for about seven years and he had been with the company for
about nineteen years in total. The result of his lay off from the company was
not really the direct result of technology but other factors. These factors
included the low demand for the product ( high voltage switchgears and
transformers), the relatively high cost of producing the product (in comparison
to there competitors in the US) due to the relatively large size of the
organiza tion. The particular manufacturing plant that he had been working in
was one of many branch plants. In fact, the company had manufacturing plants in
the US and Europe and was planning to shut down the operations of this
particular plant in Toronto due to the shrinking market in that region. The
plan also included for the US branch plant to pick up the "slack" of the Toronto
or Ontario market. In general, this interviewee agrees with some of the
relevant points with respect to the unemployment issues that Rifkin points out
but has not experienced any negative aspects of technology. That is, he relates
to the increased competition and company re-engineering that Rifkin mentions
about in his book .

     The fourth person interviewed is a part-time credit card service
assistant. He has been working for the organization for about 5 years and he
attends university as a full-time student. In the company that he has been
working for he has not experienced any negative impacts of technology or re-
engineering in the organization. As a result he does not relate to Rifkin's
pessimistic view on technology. He does on the other hand agree on Rifkin's
message on obtaining more knowledge in the high tech areas. This is one of the
reasons why he attends university so that he can gain more knowledge in
computers and keep up to date with the latest in technology.

     When a telecommunications technician was informed about Rifkin's message
concerning global automation and a huge increase in unemployment, the response
given was one of no fear. Tony Deluca of Mitec Telecom., who is manager of the
test department said that he had no worries because his work simply can't be
done by a machine. It is clear to all those who have seen first hand what
exactly is involved in testing telecommunications equipment that Tony doesn't
have to worry. He assembles a component to many different computers and makes
the finest adjustments so that all runs at the proper frequency and can
withstand all power put through it. The changes that are required can only be
performed by skilled professionals and therefore Mr. Deluca feels that his
employment for Mitec is not at risk.

     The last person interviewed is a man by the name of Robyn Decoste, he is
a small business owner in a suburb of Montreal. It is because he owns the store
that he has no fear of losing all to automation. Although what he takes into
consideration is that the mechanization of his store will make work for his
children (he plans to give the store to them) far more simple. Paperwork, and
trips to the bank will soon be non-existent. Also, he foresees automation aiding
him in a sense that he may need to employ less people in the future. Currently,
he employs people to do various tasks, from stocking shelves to banking and
those who work the register. It is known that soon enough he will no longer need
a person at the cash register, since automated billing and paying procedures are
currently being perfected, yet to acquire the best baking results and to keep
the shelves full, he must employ a small number of people.

     Rifkin attempts to throw the world into a state of shock with his book.
The End of Work is to us informative, however, it should not be read as a bible.
Using many examples taken from the past and present, Rifkin demonstrated what he
believes are the main factors which are hurling us towards an unemployed global
population. We all hold a more optimistic view of what automation will
accomplish in our society. From those interviewed, we have come to the
conclusion that the world as a whole also has a quite optimistic view of what
technology can do for us.


Rifkin J. The End of Work, (New York, G.P. Putnam's Son's, 1996).
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