As such the programmes which direct them are their basic constituents rather than any specific function they can perform. It is these information inputs which find out their degrees of flexibility, allowing, for example, cost-effective small batch production runs, customization of products and rapid changes in manufacturing procedures. also, it is this information element which gives flexibility in the labor process itself, since to carry out the operatives must, certainly, be multi-skilled and adaptable, therefore more flexible (which in itself promotes the role of information).
Where once upon a time employees learned a set of tasks ‘for life’, in the age of information technology they should be ready to update their skills as rapidly as new technologies are introduced (or even reprogrammed). Such ‘skill breadth’ (Block, 1990, p. 96) means employees have to be trained and retrained as an issue of routine, a pre-eminently informational task. Another way in which information is vital also stems from this increased dependence on programmable technologies.
The very reality that the machinery of production is so sophisticated requires that workers possess information/knowledge of the system as a complete in order to handle with the expected hiccups that come with its operation. Thus not simply does information technology arouse regular retraining, but it also demands that the employees become knowledgeable concerning the inner workings. In this way production workers become effectively information employees.
In the terminology of Larry Hirschhorn (1984), these are ‘postindustrial workers’ who should be able to survey and understand the complete production process so that they are ready to respond to the impulsive mishap’ (p. 2). Information technologies on the shop floor are a ‘postindustrial technology’ (p. 15) which takes away numerous of the physical demands and tedium of assembly work, however also requires ‘a growing mobilization and vigilance that arises from the imperfections, the discontinuities of cybernetic technology’.
Therefore ‘learning should be instituted so as to prepare workers for intervening in moments of astonishing systems failure’, something which needs comprehension of the overall system and a stable state of ‘preparation and learning’. In this way we can foresee ‘the worker moving from being the controlled factor in the production process to operating the controls to controlling the controls’ (pp. 72-3). As such the worker becomes part of ‘educated labor’ (Block and Hirschhorn, 1979, p. 369), impelled by information technologies to lead a ‘fluid, flexible life course’ (p. 379).
More than this, flexible specialization as well encourages employee contribution in the design of work. That is, computerization of production provides a ‘feedback loop’, ‘cybernetic feedback’ (Hischhorn, 1984, p. 40) to the working which enables him or her to act by reprogramming the system in proper ways. Here we have the worker depicted as informationally sensitive, made responsive by advanced technologies of what is happening all through the production process, and capable to respond intelligently to improve that overall system.
Scott Lash and John Urry (1994) take this reflexivity constituent to greater heights, en route consigning the emphasis on ICTs in favor of information itself, while also taking aboard apprehension for areas of work other than those concerned with production. In their view we live in an era of ‘reflexive accumulation’ where economic activity is premised on employees (and employers) being more and more self-monitoring, able to react to consumer needs, market outlets and, not least, quick technical innovation, with maximum speed and efficacy.
In such circumstances information occupies centre stage since it is this which is the component of the vital reflexive process that guides everything and which is a matter of unremitting decision-making and amendment on the basis of continuing monitoring of processes, products and outlets. Additionally, production of things has become infused with symbols in so far as design elements have become inner to much manufacture while, concurrently, there has been an explosive growth of work which is mainly and pre-eminently symbolic for the culture industries).
These changes are obvious, argue Lash and Urry (1994), in the creative industry (where, after all, a great deal of innovation is a query of design rather than narrowly conceived technical refinement), but how much more have they penetrated the music business, television production and publishing, fast-expanding cultural industries where information soaks into all aspect of work (pp. 220-2).