Technology and Job Descriptions

When you work in the Business Office, you have to stick your nose into everyone’s business.  For example I remember getting involved in a controversy about job descriptions for clerical positions at school sites.  Wouldn’t that be an issue between Human Resources and school principals, you ask? Well, no.  Not when you are charged with keeping the district solvent, leading you to recommend cost saving measures in all sites and departments.   About ten years ago we did a study that showed that our schools had significantly more clerical support than surrounding school districts.  The state was in recession and funding was cut.  Our CBO pushed for (and got) a reduction in school site clerical support.  Then the battle of the job descriptions began.  The position that remained “cannot be required to use a computer” we were told by the union.  It was not in the job description.Visicalc

When I started working at a retail bank years ago there was one IBM personal computer in the back room.  There was a floppy disk for each loan customer and we credit analysts would update it with the customer’s most recent quarterly financial statements.  While the bank’s tellers accessed a mainframe through the use of terminals, the use of an actual stand-alone personal computer was rare in retail banking at the time.  I had an Apple II+ computer at home, on which resided one of the seven wonders of the modern world – Visicalc!  I remember doing some work for one of the Vice Presidents at home using Visicalc and he was tremendously impressed.  So you can imagine that at that time, facility with computers and knowledge of spreadsheet software was not in any job description (outside the Technology Center, anyway). By the time I arrived at my first school district job as an analyst in 1991, I still did not have a computer on my desk (although that changed almost immediately).  At least by then, though, there was an expectation that an analyst would be familiar with computers and spreadsheets.

Fast forward to today.  A certain facility with computers (or some form of technology) is necessary in most jobs.  Imagine a warehouse worker who could not enter inventory receipts and returns electronically, or a maintenance worker who could not electronically update a work order, or a school secretary who could not access the school site’s budget on line.  Yet many of the job descriptions for these positions are outdated and do not reference technology requirements.  Yet, adding such requirements is a double edged sword.  Due to inconsistent updating, some job descriptions list technology use as a requirement while others are silent on the subject.  Using the legalistic argument that if you meant it to be a job requirement you would have said so, we have been subject to grievances where an employee demands to be placed at a higher pay grade because someone asked them to use a computer.   As technology use becomes ubiquitous, this nonsense has started to recede.  But it is still an issue, because technological requirements evolve.  Back in the day, only Analysts used Excel.  Now it is everywhere.  Just because an Analyst uses Excel, it does not mean that everyone who is asked to use Excel is an Analyst.  Even within Excel, expectations have changed. Ten years ago perhaps only an Analyst used pivot tables, but today it is not unreasonable to expect an account clerk to have that skill.

When discussing this with colleagues, I have tried to describe it in terms of the familiar bell curve that shows innovators and early adopters at one end and laggards at the other end. There will be positions that are expected to be ahead of the curve.  They will be expected to adopt new technology early.  Then there are positions that could be considered on the curve.  As technology matures those positions will be expected to adopt it too.  Then there are positions that are behind the curve.  People in those positions would use technology in a limited way.  A maintenance worker may be an example.  But also here I can see, for example, as HVAC systems mature the person responsible for accessing and updating such systems may be placed ever lower down the pay scale.

Could we just write job descriptions that clarify the level of data creation, access, and analysis that is expected from a position, rather than describe the tool they will use to do it?  Otherwise we’ll be constantly dealing with outdated job descriptions.

One comment on “Technology and Job Descriptions

  1. consulting community
    October 2, 2013 at 3:08 am #

    Good thoughts. cheers.

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