Structural adjustment - factor affecting productivity, Operation Management

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Structural Adjustments - Factors Affecting Productivity Improvement

Structural adjustment relates to the composition of society, the industries in which people work, fashions and trends all of which have an impact upon the organisation's productivity. Examples of such changes may be provided by the movement of labour in Europe and North America, initially from agriculture to industry in the early to mid-nineteenth century and latterly away from industry to the services sector. In both of these shifts, automation has played a key role: technology (eg combine harvesters and traction engines) removed the need for large scale labour in the fields, whilst the introduction of automated or computerised production systems such as computer assisted design (CAD) has increased output per person greatly in the manufacturing sector. To remain productive in high-technology industry requires constant re-investment in machinery, training and staff. People need tools to extend their productivity, technology and capital provides those tools.

Another structural consideration may be (false) economies of scale. Although the 'advantages' of such economies are well known, the concept has had only a limited degree of success in practice, as may be seen from examples such as the Soviet five year agricultural plans, and the current trend within the manufacturing sector to small batch manufacture. The third mechanism which affects structural adjustment is the demographic or social trends facing the organisation. Demographic trends can be seen from the variances in labour cost worldwide. These variances force industry in high labour cost countries to find other means of matching the low unit costs of manufacture in countries such as Taiwan and South Korea.

Conventionally, this has been achieved through the replacement of labour by capital investment such as automation, but at the possible social expense of unemployment. This can however lead to the formation of a 'vicious circle' as unemployment often leads to a reduction in labour costs thereby encouraging the employer to reduce long-term investment in automation and re-invest in labour due to its improved cost- competitiveness. Whether this labour cost trend could be maintained in the long term is the real question which the employer should be asking. Social trends which have been exhibited in the West over the last decade include the increasing number of women in full-time employment and the rising number of people on courses past the school leaving age.


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