Computers are stripping jobs and status from the nation's clerical workers, according to two new reports on office automation.
U.S. companies are dropping stenographers, typists and secretaries and replacing them with word processors, high-speed copiers and sophisticated dictaphones, the reports say.
Clerical job growth has slowed to 2 percent less than the growth rate for all employment, and pay for clericals is declining as well, according to one of the reports.
Office workers nowadays are doing more work with their new machines. But that productivity usually encourages managers to add more assignments in the belief that the machines and the people using them are capable of handling the load. To ensure that the extra work is done, some companies are using computers to monitor the people using the computers, according to the reports.
Office-hiring patterns also are changing. High school-trained secretaries are out. College-trained specialists are in.
"Neither present nor future holders of high school diplomas can expect to have an easy time in finding jobs in offices," said one of the reports, which was produced by Cleveland-based Nine to Five, National Association of Working Women.
"The increasing professionalization of computer-related jobs means that computer specialists with college degrees will supplant low-level managers and cut off the traditional paths for advancement once followed by the clericals," said the Nine to Five study, titled "Hidden Victims: Clerical Workers, Automation, and The Changing Economy."
Between 1980 and 1984, U.S. companies cut 100,000 jobs from the largest group of clerical workers -- secretaries, stenographers and typists, the Nine to Five report said. "But the loss of clerical jobs is largely hidden from public view" because it comes "mostly through attrition and internal reorganization," the report said.
Neither the Nine to Five report nor another study by industry consultant Craig Brod argues that office automation is inherently bad. The problem is that the push for the so-called paperless office is taking place with too little regard for the people who are being pushed out of old jobs and the survivors who are being pushed into new ones, the reports said.
"White-collar workers these days are experiencing a great deal of culture shock," Brod wrote in his study, "Technostress: The Human Cost of the Computer Revolution."
"With the advent of the electronic office, these employes often worry that their jobs are being reduced to those of machine attendants, with less room for initiative, variety and creativity than ever before. For many people, this signifies a demotion."
Brod and Nine to Five argue that managers need to do a better job of preparing their white-collar staffs for automation.
Both contend that more emphasis is needed on job training -- for the survivors and the dismissed.
"Training programs should not be limited to machine-specific, ad-hoc training," the Nine to Five report said.
"It is important to develop policies that help clerical workers attain knowledge about the direct workings of computers. Otherwise, the prospects of job mobility will be severely limited," according to the report by the working women's group.