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Tomorrow's Workforce Shaped By Changing Practices
By Jana Foust,
Southern Rural Development Center
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Rural development specialists say four major trends are shaping the workforce of tomorrow -- technology, service sector growth, changes in how companies do business and globalization.
"Technology is changing the way that we work," said David Freshwater, director of the Tennessee Valley Authority Rural Studies Program headquartered at the University of Kentucky. "For workers to adapt to these changes, they must be willing to stay abreast of technology, learn it and use it. The rural work force isn't always able to do that."
According to a report recently published jointly by the TVA Rural Studies Program and the Southern Rural Development Center headquartered at Mississippi State University, the technological differences in rural and urban areas are less than in years before. But even still, rural areas often are remote and isolated, and access to the technology is very expensive.
Rural residents also are skeptical of technology because of the cost involved. Freshwater said these attitudes stem from lower disposable incomes and less confidence in the long-term profitability of technology.
"Education is the answer to bridging the gap in technology in rural and urban areas," said Dr. Bo Beaulieu, director of the SRDC. "If we want businesses in rural areas to be able to adopt technology, we have to educate the workforce about technology -- how to use it and why it is important. A state that takes education seriously will advance in the long run."
Freshwater said this education should start in elementary and secondary schools, with supplementary education for the current workforce.
"Preparing today's workforce for tomorrow's technology is critical for their job skills," Freshwater said. "Workers will want to improve themselves if we can show them the rewards of the improvement."
In the past three decades, the rural South has relied heavily on manufacturing jobs whose numbers are now stagnant or declining, Beaulieu said.
Between 1991 and 1996, 88 percent of new jobs created were in the service sector and only 12 percent in manufacturing.
"Jobs in the service sector continue to grow as our economy and the demographics of the population change," Beaulieu said. "For example, the aging population requires more specialized healthcare."
Because companies are changing the way they do business, tomorrow's workers will need to solve problems, work in teams and make decisions on their own.
In tomorrow's global economy, workers will compete internationally with lower paid workers from other countries and need to be technologically prepared for that competition. This globalization of business allows companies to operate wherever they wish.
Printed copies of the report titled "Ready or Not? The Rural South and Its Workforce" are available from the TVA Rural Studies Program by calling (606) 257-1872. The report also can be accessed online as an Adobe Acrobat file at http://www.rural.org.
Released: Sept. 13, 1999
Contact: Dr. Bo Beaulieu, (662) 325-3207