Studies conducted in the 1970s (Maywood 1982) provide evidence that employers have traditionally agreed on the behaviors and attitudes they expect from employees and the security and benefits that they are willing to provide in return. According to Maywood, employers' rankings of the attributes most desired in employees consistently confirm that the most desirable employee is one who demonstrates the traditionally valued characteristics of reliability, dependability, pride of craftsmanship, and willingness to learn and who derives personal gratification from a job well done. Vocational education has traditionally responded to this need through instruction on appropriate work behaviors and attitudes. An example of this approach is teaching students to exercise integrity and good judgment (maintain and demonstrate confidentiality, loyalty, and honesty), respect property, and follow company rules (follow company policies and procedures and negotiate to resolve conflicts) (Lankard 1987).
This ERIC Digest examines recent changes in the workplace and related changes in employers' attitudes and needs that have made it necessary to reassess the traditional curriculum used to teach appropriate work attitudes and behaviors. The Digest outlines an approach to preparing students for future employment by equipping them with the higher-order thinking and negotiating skills that have been collectively termed vocational ethics.
In an attempt to meet increasing foreign competition by improving product quality and productivity, management has begun to encourage and, in many cases, require greater worker participation in decisions affecting both the quality of the work environment and the production process. According to Wirth (Miller and Coady 1984), this trend has blurred the traditionally sharp demarcation between labor and management.
The accelerating pace of technological advancement has made it much less likely that workers will hold the same job throughout their working lives, and the increasing economic pressures brought to bear by a global economy have made it far less likely that workers will begin and end their working lives at the same organization (Miller and Coady 1984).
As organizations adopt different strategies to increase their productivity and improve the quality of their product or service, they adopt the new collaboration-based model of structuring the workplace to different degrees. Sometimes an organization will even adopt the model to varying degrees in different facets of its operations. One example cited by Wirth (Miller and Coady 1984) is Anheuser-Busch, which has plants based on both the traditional and collaborative models.
A second result of the changes in the workplace is that different employers have begun requiring and expecting different attitudes and behaviors from their employees. According to Miller and Coady (1986), as early as 1982, U.S. companies were beginning to differ with regard to the value themes they emphasize--hence their conclusion that students being prepared for the postindustrial workplace must be made aware that (1) no one set of values may be assumed to be held in equal value by all organizations at all times and that (2) employers may not be "the single source of guiding work values in all work contexts" (Miller and Coady 1986, p. 5).
According to Miller and Coady (1986), the term "work ethic" refers to the "beliefs, values, and principles that guide the way individuals interpret and act upon their job rights and responsibilities within the work context at any given time" (p. 5). In his discussion of changing attitudes toward work, Maywood (1982) defines the "Protestant work ethic" as the view that humans have a moral duty to work diligently, regardless of their station in life, and that by doing so they can reap societal regard and the personal reward of knowing that a job has been well done. This Protestant work ethic has, according to Maywood, Jennings, Wirth, and others, largely shaped the traditional approach to teaching students about appropriate work attitudes and behaviors.
Miller and Coady (1986) point out that, as innovation, flexibility, and collaborative efforts are accepted on an increasingly wider scale, the way in which many of these values (for example, punctuality) are viewed will differ dramatically from employer to employer. Because of this, vocational educators and career counselors will have to focus less on teaching a set of universally accepted skills and values (such as those associated with the Protestant work ethic) and more on equipping students with the higher-order decision-making and problem-solving skills that they will need to cope with increased individual responsibility for shaping their work environments. (In many respects, this shift away from specifics to higher-order and more generalizable skills parallels the movement away from job-specific to transferable skills that is occurring in many vocational programs.)
This revised approach to preparing students to enter and function in the world of work has come to be known as "vocational ethics." The use of the word "ethics" here should not be interpreted in its general sense of a theory or system of moral values. The definition of vocational ethics offered by Jennings--"the rights of a worker as well as the rights that management demands of a worker and what a worker demands reciprocally" (Miller and Coady 1986, p. 67)--makes it clear that ethics in this context has a narrower scope that is perhaps closer in meaning to "professional ethics."
Miller and Coady (1986) define the purpose of vocational ethics as being to (1) "provide students with a framework for recognizing and resolving ethical conflicts within themselves, with others, and with their environment in such a way as to promote individual job satisfaction and continuous and productive employment" and (2) give students the "opportunity to develop an enabling work ethic" (p. 5).
This viewpoint is reinforced by Copa et al. (1985). One of the purposes they identify for vocational education is to "socialize individuals to manage the work aspects of their lives in a way that is to their benefit and that of the larger community" (p. 7-7). Dimensions of this role include the relation of work to community, relation of self to work, and relation of work to other facets of an individual's life.
Lankard, B. A. PRACTICE ETHICAL BEHAVIOR. WORK MATURITY SKILLS SERIES COMPETENCY 4.0. Columbus: The National Center for Research in Vocational Education, The Ohio State University, 1987. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 288 981).
Maywood, A. G. "Vocational Education and the Work Ethic." CANADIAN VOCATIONAL JOURNAL 18, no. 3 (November 1982): 7-12. (ERIC No. EJ 270 776).
Miller, P. F., and Coady, W. T., eds. REPORT ON THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE CONFERENCE ON THE FUTURE OF THE WORLD OF WORK. Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri. October 12, 1984. Carbondale: Office of Research, Development, and Administration, Southern Illinois University, 1984. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 285 984).
Miller, P. F., and Coady, W. T. VOCATIONAL ETHICS: TOWARD THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN ENABLING WORK ETHIC. Springfield: Illinois Department of Adult, Vocational, and Technical Education, 1986. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 288 062).