Vol.39-No.10 October 1, 2000
There are a number of explanations for such views. First, the jobs undertaken by white-collar workers are constituted with non-routine mental operations based on particular information or on dealings with individuals. Hence, unlike the observable, concrete tasks of workers engaged in skilled or production-line work, it is almost impossible to observe and evaluate their work. For example, white-collar workers apply their knowledge of accounting, law or human resource management to a variety of individual situations such as: processing receiving and payment slips involved in tasks such as money transactions; interpreting or applying legal provisions; and supervising and evaluating junior staff members. The knowledge required to do this type of work is acquired through school and university education, and also in-house company education. Thus, aptitude for the jobs of a white-collar worker includes the intellectual ability to learn such skills. However, study on intelligence has so far been unable to clarify what this ability actually is. Accordingly, firms have traditionally assumed that it is academic ability and educational career that guarantee the ability to learn, and have relied on them as criteria for the recruitment and allocation of white-collar workers. It is said that most large companies in Japan produce generalists rather than specialists through their recruitment and training procedures. University graduates are hired en masse on a regular basis and receive on-the-job training through which they gain experience with different kinds of jobs in various sections for relatively short periods of time. It seems likely that in adopting such employment management strategies, firms have neither evaluated individual workers, nor allocated them in terms of their suitability to particular jobs. In other words, it is far from clear what specific abilities white-collar workers are required to possess in order to carry out their jobs.
The situation differs for the recruitment of experienced workers in the general labor market. Firms employ such workers to fill a specific vacancy. In this case, the worker's position and job are predetermined. Since the criterion for recruitment of the worker is whether he or she is capable of executing particular jobs, the work experience of candidates is taken into account. Consequently, middle-aged and elderly white-collar workers who have worked as generalists, because of the vagueness of their specialties, will be seen as having acquired job skills that are useful only within their company.
2.0 Three Skills
For white-collar workers, the abilities required are the knowledge and skills for processing the knowledge, the nature of the required knowledge being determined by the nature of the task. Hence, in theory, it should be possible to estimate ability to fill a position by the presence or absence of particular knowledge. For instance, under a business career system drawn up by the Japan Vocational Ability Development Association (JAVADA), jobs are classified into 10 groups: personnel and human resources development; accounting and finance; sales and marketing; production management; legal and general affairs; public relations and advertising; physical distribution management; information and office management; management planning; and international affairs. The scheme sorts the various types of specialized knowledge required in each group into a certain number of units so that the degree of knowledge can be evaluated. However, with white-collar workers, more is required than ability in performing jobs, and in many cases, personality rather than ability is said to be a major factor in the recruitment process. Thus, large Japanese companies tend to evaluate the vocational ability of their white-collar workers in terms of personality rather than ability in performing specific jobs. This fact shows the characteristic of the vocational ability required for white-collar workers.
Katz (1955) recognizes the ability of business managers in terms of technical, human and conceptual categories of skill. Technical skill is specialized knowledge related to jobs requiring an understanding of products and services; knowledge of methods, procedures and tools in executing jobs; and knowledge of the market, customers and rival companies. Human skill is concerned with working with people and includes such abilities as understanding the process of individuals and groups; understanding other people's motives, emotion and attitudes from their words and behavior; maintaining cooperative relationships with other people; and ability in verbal communication and persuasion. Finally, conceptual skill includes the ability to analyze complicated events, perceive trends, detect changes, and identify problems with opportunities; the ability to develop creative and practical solutions to problems; and the ability to conceptualize complex ideas and deploy models, theories and inferences. According to this definition, the specialized knowledge required for the execution of jobs falls within the range of technical skill, while what is usually referred to as personality, or character, seems to correspond to what Katz calls human and conceptual skills. What, then, is the nature of these human and conceptual skills?
3.0 Tacit Knowledge
Wagner and Sternberg (1985) asked business managers about how they usually worked. The questionnaire provided work-related situations and associated response items for problem solving, asking the business managers to evaluate the importance of the items given. The results revealed that three factors task management, others management and self-management were detectable in the behavior of managers. These factor scores were found to be correlated with length of experience as managers, but were not related to intelligence such as verbal ability. It was considered that these factors constitute practical intelligence which support managerial problem-solving. Practical knowledge includes tactic knowledge, which was not expressed in verbal ways, but was acquired through experience.
Practical intelligence is the ability underpinning the solution of problems in everyday life. Tasks that a school teacher gives in the classroom involve fixed answers and methods. On the other hand, real life tasks such as solving management problems do not constitute systematic structures consisting of clearly defined concepts, so that many have various possible solutions. Wagner and Sternberg consider that, unlike academic intelligence associated with formal or verbal knowledge, which is theoretical and transferable through school education and textbooks, there exists a practical intelligence supported by knowledge and common sense acquired through experience. Such kinds of knowledge are named tacit knowledge since they are not usually described verbally and are thus not taught. Because tacit knowledge, or experiential knowledge, is learned by making inferences from people's behavior in individual situations, or taking action by oneself in other words, learned through experience it is thought to depend on the situation or the purpose, and thus to constitute procedural knowledge.
In Japanese firms, new graduates recruited are rarely asked about their ability to perform specific jobs, but in most cases are taught working methods via on-the-job training. Such workers will be promoted to managerial positions after experiencing various kinds of jobs for a period of 15 years or so. Such an educational and training system undoubtedly attaches great importance to experience. It also shows that the skills and knowledge required for problem solving in business management constitute a tacit knowledge embodied in actual work activities and are linguistically indefinable, being acquired through on-the-job training or rotation through various jobs. Accordingly, a research team of the Japan Institute of Labour has embarked on an investigation to clarify the vocational abilities required of white-collar workers, with a prime emphasis on tacit knowledge.
Based on a series of studies by Wagner, Kusumi (1998) drew up a Japanese version of the questionnaire concerning situations where workers in managerial positions solved problems. He then conducted a comparative survey of students and workers in managerial and non-managerial positions in order to clarify structures of their tacit knowledge. As in the studies conducted by Wagner and his colleagues in the United States, Kusumi's study revealed that the three factors, task management, others management and self-management, constitute the tacit knowledge of managers. Further, he found a correlation between time spent in a managerial position and scores of tacit knowledge. However, this correlation was low, suggesting that the individual difference of managers influences their level of tacit knowledge. In other words, the process to acquire skills and knowledge for problem-solving is a non-formal learning mediated by individual learning ability. This fact has significance if workers in Japan are expected to learn skills and knowledge from individual work experience on an individual basis: What kind of individual factors facilitate learning from experience?
4.0 Attitude to Learn from Experience
Individual traits are said to be important in learning from experience. These include adventurous attitude to grow up through new experiences, flexibility in learning from critics, from one's own and others' mistakes, willingness to seek feedback on one's own work in order to understand the work environment, and attitude to monitor the environment. Kusumi (1999) classifies such factors contributing to learning ability into five categories: (a) the spirit of challenge in tackling high-risk and difficult tasks, (b) adaptability and flexibility, (c) ability to adapt to new work environment or settings, (d) use of feedback, and (e) monitoring, and he drew up a questionnaire consisting of 30 questions, six in five different categories. He administered the questionnaire to 228 working people in various ranks, together with 433 university students for control groups, asking them to assess themselves on a five-point scale, according to the degree to which they believed their own attitude fitted the five categories.
4.1 Five Factors of Learning from Experience
A factor analysis of data on working people yielded five factors, and a comparison of factor scores of working people and students was made for 23 items covered by these factors (Figure 1).
The first factor was considered to be the risk-taking factor in that the items chosen had higher loading of preference for more responsible and difficult jobs and for workplaces that change more. The mean factor score was significantly higher for high-level managers than for ordinary workers, and for groups of workers in managerial positions than for students.
The second factor almost corresponded to items related to flexibility, in that there was high factor loadings of items concerning new ideas and changing viewpoints, and those concerning flexible attitudes towards other opinions. The mean factor score was significantly higher for workers in high-level managerial positions than for students, non-managers and low- and middle-level managers. Thus, this factor seems to be an ability required more for managers in higher positions.
The third factor was related to a preference for safety, or a tendency to perform jobs steadily and safely. In this factor, reversal items to risk-taking, flexibility, and ability to learn had high factor loadings. The mean factor score was significantly higher for ordinary workers and low-level managers than for high-level managers.
The fourth can be seen as the courage factor, in which an individual gives priority to his or her own methods and ideas rather than to information about the outside situation. In this factor, there was high factor loadings of reversal items to monitoring, in which an individual adjusts his or her behavior in accordance with various situations. The mean factor score saw no significant difference among workers in different positions.
The fifth factor incorporated some items related to the search for and use of feedback, but reversal items had positive factor loadings. There was high factor loadings of items showing that individuals were concerned about how others perceived them, and a desire to gain the favor of superiors. This was named the feedback-seeking factor. The mean factor score was higher among students than among working people, but there was no difference among workers in different positions, thus revealing a factor unique to students with no work experience.
4.2 Years of Management Experience, Age and Attitude to Learn
There was no difference in terms of factor scores among the different kinds of business a worker was involved in, nor among the nature of their jobs. The mean factor scores for each factor for workers in managerial positions were not significantly correlated with age. In medium-sized and large firms, scores for the flexibility factor were positively correlated with years of management experience, but not with age. Conversely, in small firms, scores on the flexibility factor were negatively correlated with age, but not with years of management experience. In medium-sized and large firms, scores on the courage factor were inversely correlated to years of management experience, whereas in small firms, the score for safety-oriented attitude was directly correlated to age. Thus, managers in medium-sized and large firms have a tendency to monitor and adjust their behavior flexibly to the exterior situation. On the other hand, their counterparts in small firms seemed to prefer stability and safety. Despite a positive correlation between years of management experience and age, the absence of any correlation between flexibility, monitoring and age, in the case of management in medium-sized and large companies, suggests that such factors are acquired not as a worker gets older but via experience in the workplace. It is suggested that the traits required for managers, even of the same rank, differ in accordance with the size of company.
4.3 Structures of Attitudes to Learn from Experience
Correlations between the factors related to attitude to learn from experience presented different patterns between working people and students, as shown in Figure 2. Where working people are concerned, the risk-taking factor was correlated positively to the flexibility factor, and negatively to safety-oriented attitude. This means that the ideal manager is flexible and thrives on challenge, whereas the safety-oriented attitude is considered to be courage and feedback-seeking, and thus undesirable. Where students are concerned, risk-taking is correlated to courage and feedback-seeking, and is unrelated to flexibility and safety-oriented attitude. Since this is an attitude of people without work experience, it is likely that with experience in the workplace they will learn attitudes appropriate to managers who are flexible and open toward change.
5.0 Interpersonal Skills
Among research on the traits and resources required for managers, the assessment center (Howard & Bray, 1988) is well known. Bray and his colleagues multi-dimensionally assessed the suitability of candidates for the position of manager in the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), then later investigated whether or not they had actually been promoted to managerial positions. Their investigation revealed that promotion was related to such dimensions as intellectual ability, interpersonal ability, administrative ability, and advancement motivation. In the past, it has been consistently revealed regarding the assessment center that administrative skills and interpersonal skills constitute the managerial ability, and it is possible to see the former as equivalent to Katz's technical skills and conceptual skills. What, though, is meant by interpersonal skills in this case?
If a difference in a certain trait is observed between workers in managerial positions and those in non-managerial positions, then that trait is likely to be a trait required for a manager to perform properly in the organization to which they belong. Imai (1998) considered three aspects of socially influencing behavior in managers: how a manager seeks to persuade a subordinate when their opinions are opposed (means of influence); what kind of behavior a manager believes is important within an organization (behavior within the organization); and how far a manager wishes to influence others (influence motivation).
Imai considered these aspects as extraneous measures of a manager's position within an organization. His study detected a difference between university students and working people in terms of all three behaviors, but a difference among workers of different status was seen only in terms of influence motivation. Specifically, it was found that workers in middle- and high-level managerial positions have higher influence motivation a higher ability and desire to exert influence on, and a stronger resistance to being influenced by others. This result is consistent with the advancement motivation examined by Bray and his colleagues, but Imai (1998) claims that this does not immediately lead to the conclusion that this motivation is a trait required of white-collar managers. He cautioned that it is not clear whether a higher influence motivation has caused such workers to be promoted to higher positions with influence, or whether promotion to higher positions has heightened their influence motivation.
Negotiations and decision-making are two of the most important undertakings in business management, in which managers will be expected to perform smoothly and effectively. Kameda (1998) asked white-collar workers about how they behave in a number of simulations concerning negotiations and decision-making in an organization, and found differences in judgment between workers in positions such as high- and middle-level manager, and those in non-managerial positions. The higher the position, the more disciplined i.e., theoretical were the replies given to questions concerning negotiations. However, in other situations, workers in managerial positions did not necessarily choose rational solutions; they showed a tendency, for example, to make an effort to reach a consensus among various opinions at the expense of swift decisions. Assuming that it is necessary to establish a kind of discipline in an organization and that learning from the discipline leads to expertise as a manager, the skills required for expertness would seem to be dependent on individual situations and, thus, remarkably close to the above-mentioned tacit knowledge.
6.0 Requirements for White-collar Workers
This paper has covered a limited part of intellectual ability, and restricted the types of jobs discussed to workers in managerial positions rather than white-collar workers as a whole. It has clarified the fact that many workers in managerial positions possess attitudes and knowledge different from students without work experience and even from ordinary workers. Moreover, it suggests that such attitudes and knowledge have been learned through engagement in administration. The ability and other factors helping individuals to find a job their employability are often said to be lacking in middle-aged and elderly white-collar workers (most of whom are in managerial positions), who therefore have difficulty in finding jobs outside their company. However, investigation of, for example, workers' attitude to learn from experience makes it clear that workers in managerial positions have higher risk-taking and flexibility attitudes, with lower safety-oriented and feedback-seeking attitudes, than workers in non-managerial positions.
A verbal response to a questionnaire is not actual behavior, but the expression of such views as an ideal shows that workers in managerial positions in a changing world are being expected to take a lead in showing flexibility and willingness to change. One might possibly say that not only ability, but also such an attitude, is embodied in employability. One of the reasons why white-collar workers are said to have no employability seems to be because the questions of what employability is and of what kind of ability in executing jobs is required for white-collar workers have remained unanswered.
Howard, A. and Bray, D. W.
Managerial Lives in Transition: Advancing Age and Changing Times. New York: The Guilford Press, 1998.
Shakai teki Chii to Eiky-o Shudan, Soshikinaik-od-o, Seiryokud-oki (Compliance-gaining Strategy, Important Behavior in Organizations and Power Motive with Social Status). Shiry-o Shiri-zu (The Japan Institute of Labour Data Series) 82 (1998): 26-57.
K-osh-o to Ishikettei: Kettei Mondai no Chishiki Hy-ogen to Kankeisha no Kakutei (Bargaining and Decision-making). Shiry-o Shiri-zu (The Japan Institute of Labour Data Series) 82 (1998): 58-68. Katz, R. L.
Skills of an Effective Administrator Harvard Business Review, January-February (1955): 33-42. Kusumi, T.
Ch-ukan Kanrishoku no Sukiru, Chishiki to Sono Gakush-u (Skills and Knowledge of Middle Managers and Their Acquisition) Nihon R-od-o Kenkyu Zasshi (The Monthly Journal of the Japan Institute of Labour) 41,12 (1999): 39-49. Kusumi, T.
Howaito Kara- no Jukutatsuka to Chishiki no K-oz-o (Expertizing of White-collar Workers and the Structure of Their Knowledge). Shiry-o Shiri-zu (The Japan Institute of Labour Data Series) 82 (1998): 13-25. Wagner, R. K. and Sternberg, R. J.
The Role of Tacit Knowledge, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 49 (1985): 436-458.
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