Workers Want A High Tech Edge

Computers lift their aspirations

If a new nationwide survey of more than 1,000 U.S. workers is any indication, plans by Ford Motor Co. and Delta Air Lines to offer their employees computers and Internet access for a nominal monthly fee should prove highly popular. The survey, conducted by Rutgers University's Heldrich Center for Workforce Development and the University of Connecticut's Center for Survey Research & Analysis, found that the majority of workers not only use computers every day but feel that they have improved their lives.

About two-thirds of those surveyed reported that they use computers at their jobs, and 68% reported they have access to at least one computer at home. Altogether, some 81% used computers in the month prior to the survey.

Such usage can be fairly intense. Virtually all workers who use computers boot up at least once a week, and about 85% of this group (more than two-thirds of those surveyed) indicate that they use them at least once a day--in most cases, for at least an hour. Indeed, the survey indicates that working Americans spend an average of three hours of each work day at their monitors.

Of those using a computer at work, the great majority (87%) said they use it for job-related activities, with e-mail, word processing, browsing the Net, and gathering news and information leading the list of applications. Less than 16% indicated that they sometimes use their computers at work for such personal activities as shopping online, paying personal bills, or playing games.

While workers have often felt threatened by technological change in the past, that's clearly not the case today. Some 58% of those queried agreed that computers had changed their lives for the better, compared with 20% who disagreed. Only 7% were worried about losing their jobs because of new technology, and 77% felt that new information technology is good for the economy--with those making less than $40,000 a year actually more enthusiastic than those earning more.

Interestingly, although most workers believe they have the computer skills needed to perform their current jobs, only 23% said they learned to use a computer at work. Moreover, half think they will need more computer skills to achieve their career goals, and 44% do not believe that their employers do a good job in providing them with computer training opportunities.

Such concerns throw light on one curious finding in the survey. Although workers are more secure and more confident about the economy than in past surveys, their job satisfaction has actually declined a bit. The apparent reason, say the researchers, is that the boom has made them eager to reap the potential rewards that they believe the computer revolution offers. Thus, Ford's and Delta's plans to put their employees online could pay big dividends--in both worker satisfaction and productivity.