White Collar Work Term Paper

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Growth of Industrialism and White-Collar Workers

Rise of professional or "knowledge" class (Peter Drucker)

Definition of professional -- denotation only

Demographic statistics on rise of white collar and professionals

Trend toward professionals as a specific labor union and class

Professionals as separate class above blue-collar and other white-collar workers. Connotation of word in today's society.

Fincham -- occupational strategy of professionals

MacDonald -- rise of professionalism built on lack of self-esteem, anxiety, internal conflict

Parry and Parry -- professional strategy as a form of upward collective mobility

Ehrenreich -- Need for professionals to be inclusive rather than exclusive

Questioning of why some skills required for advancement over others

Professionals as hedonists and self-centered needs

Need for societal changes with equality between different professions

Illich -- Rise of Disabling Professions

Pescosolido -- Changing attitudes of public toward medical professionals

Conclusion -- Need for public to increase skepticism and not put professionals on different plane.

From the end of the 1800s to World War I, the United States and its workers experienced a great deal of change. Industrialism was growing steadily after the Civil War, bringing both positive transformations as well as difficult challenges. These decades also saw the rapid rise of a new form of employee, the white-collar job, as capitalism led to the need for additional lower management, administrators and clerical personnel. Such workers began to be classified with managers in the census rather than with skilled craftsmen and unskilled labor or "blue-collar' workers. The white-collar employees were differentiated because they earned yearly salaries instead of hourly wages or work by the piece. In addition, white-collar positions required at least a high-school education and certain behavior, manners and dress distinct from the blue-collar jobs. A social class system began to develop that made white-collar jobs seem more prestigious than blue-collar ones. The children of first and second-generation Americans as well as those of recent immigrants recognized that they would need to obtain a degree and seek a white-collar position if they were to rise above their parents' status.

In the early to mid 1900s, the two World Wars and continual buildup of industrialization put an emphasis on the need for skilled labor. By the 1950s and 60s, industrial workers made up the largest group within labor. However, over the last half of this century, another switch has taken place: the decline of blue-collar workers and the rise of the white-collar ones.

Since World War II, the number of white-collar workers in the U.S. labor force has increased dramatically. Today they account for over 50% of the labor force, surpassing their industrialized and trade counterparts by approximately 11 million. Further, for the first time since tracking began 20 years ago, women outnumber men in higher non-blue-collar occupations. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicate that women represent 50.6% of the 48 million employees in white-collar related occupations. This is a 10% rise since 1983.

A large number of these white-collar people are labeled as "professionals." Management consultant Drucker describes this change in personnel from blue-collar workers to professionals as "the subsequent rise of 'knowledge workers.' These employees are thus named because they require formal education and continuous, lifelong learning to continually advance in their fields.

Basically, a professional can be defined as one professed of knowledge (Wikipedia online). A professional receives payment for some activity for which he/she has great skill or that something that demonstrates such skill. To conduct oneself as a professional (exhibiting "professional behavior") would indicate that the person's actions remain in accordance with specific rules, written or unwritten, pertaining to the standards of a profession. In many areas a person must overcome a barrier to entry before gaining recognition as a professional. Such barriers include academic degrees, certifications, licenses or completion of an apprenticeship. Professions with such barriers include those of doctors, engineers, attorneys, teachers and, most recently, individuals in electronic technology.

Over the past several decades, many such professions achieved legitimacy because they offered a service for the good of society. They were seen having authority, since they provided a unique expertise and knowledge. As a result, increasing numbers of individuals have joined these professional ranks. New professions are named on a regular basis, such as those most recently involved with the information technology and computer science fields.

In fact, now, more than ever, these professionals are looking for a degree of status that separates them from other white-collar workers. Many of them have even been forming their own unions to receive better benefits and pay. The Professional and Technical WorkForce: A New Frontier for Unions describes a new labor movement that is attracting a large number of professional workers who seek a leadership role in the workplace and as part of the new economy. These individuals include educators, librarians, healthcare professionals and technicians, performing artists; scientists and engineers; the computer-related professions, and social service personnel.

Above, the definition or "denotation" of a professional was given "as someone who professes a certain knowledge." However, what is the "connotation" of the word professional? Considerable differences of opinion concern the political and social status of these professionals. A number of social scientists have begun to look at this latest phenomenon to determine its impact on American society. This study is called the sociology of professions.

Several of those studying this issue have found that professionals are doing all they can to separate themselves from other employees -- to make themselves unique unit unto themselves. Fincham (283) suggested that instead of regarding professionalism as an inherent quality of a few select occupations, it is best considered an occupational strategy. Here, newer professional groups such as pharmacists are attempting to gain recognition as professions in order to receive the rewards, including remuneration, received by the earlier established professions.

MacDonald (208) adds that studies of law, medicine, architecture and accountancy professionals indicate that the apparently secure positions these occupations occupy in public esteem are only achieved after long periods of internal conflict and of less than amicable interaction with the state: They have had to use a wide range of tactics to impress their clientele, the public and the government that they worthy are of their privileges and rewards.

Parry and Parry have defined a professional strategy as a form of upward collective mobility. Thus, if a profession has to be successful in its occupational strategy, it has to be a firm coalition of interests and act collectively, not unlike a trade union. Although, as noted above, more professionals are joining unions, Parry and Parry say that these are distinct from those in the blue-collar arena. Professionals have been known to take industrial action, but are anxious not to be identified by the public as trade unions. Professional associations are thus closer to craft unions than to large general labor unions, which operate in such a way as to represent as many people as possible in a particular industry, whatever their specific occupation or skills.

This distinction being made between professionals and other white- and blue-collar workers is disconcerting to social scientists such as Ehrenreich, who was interviewed online by the website PBS' "Border Talk." Professions, she states, have divided people by social class. "With all due respect for expertise and educational achievements, our professions in many cases represent the strongholds of a relative economic elite, and operate to keep others 'in their place.'" It is impossible, she adds, to go from being a practical nurse to a registered nurse without spending time and money on formal education regardless of skills. Similarly, one cannot get into medical school without passing a course in calculus, although the need for calculus is extremely unlikely to arise in the practice of medicine. "Professional requirements like these, as I argued in my book Fear of Falling, have often been used to exclude the poor and working class from lucrative and powerful occupations."

She would like to see, in addition to universal, free higher education, a re-examination of the "professional borders." For instance, if a person does poorly in calculus or organic chemistry but shows great caring and communication skills, maybe he or she should be admitted to medical school on the strength of those skills. If another person has spent years in the service role of a charitable organization, why shouldn't he or she be to become an administrator without a B.A. degree (ibid)

In her book Fear of Falling, Ehrenreich offers an assessment of the "retreat from liberalism" by the "professional middle class" from the 1950s to the 1980s. She describes how this class came to see itself first as a class among others, and then as an elite above others. This class-consciousness not only estranged members of the professional middle class from "ordinary" Americans, it also brought with it hedonism, self-indulgence, and a pervasive and deep-seated anxiety.

Such thoughts emphasize that there are advantages as well as disadvantages derived from the rise of professionals. Expertise has allowed greater specialization and the refinement of valuable practices that can serve society.…[continue]

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