Sunday, December 20, 2015

Deskilling thresholds

Adam Davidson discusses how the US military maintains a smooth hierarchical path from entry-level to top-execs in the face of broad technological shifts that undermine the middle-management role:
Put simply: The disappearance of middle management is a central part of the disappearance of the middle class. Without large corporations that have a place for people at many levels of skill and ability and a reasonably clear path of promotion, tens of millions of Americans are left underemployed and underpaid. For much of the 20th century, companies would employ young people with few skills and invest in them, knowing that they would most likely be paid back over the employees’ long tenure. Today, the United States military is one of the few employers in America that still makes this kind of investment in a demographically broad group of people.
The decline in middle managers has direct consequences for the income distribution, but it also has a worrisome effect on the career-building landscape of young people. In organizations, the concept of deskilling basically describes the process by which technical skills are lost as people move up the hierarchy (i.e. Bill Gates probably stopped coding when he became CEO of Microsoft).

Middle management roles are crucial in enabling a gradual deskilling process, incrementally replacing technical skills with higher-level managerial skills. For striving young professionals, fewer mid-level positions means a lot more ambiguity about when and how to begin shifting their skill mix away from narrow expertise and towards broader people-management (for example).

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