Grant research to study links between technology, careers

Nina Hernandez

The National Science Foundation awarded $1.4 million in grants to three universities, including UT, to study the impacts of technology on occupations.

UT has appointed a principal investigator, Diane Bailey, an associate professor in the School of Information, to travel to different countries and gather data on how technology has enabled people living in remote areas of the world to acquire skills needed for professional occupations such as banking, engineering, entrepreneurship and graphic design.

According to the study, the focus is to understand how companies are using technology to train people to do jobs without direct social interaction.

“The way people learn [to do a job] is to be with people who have that job already,” Bailey said. “One of the things we suspect is that this new mode of learning allows a certain amount of leeway that one wouldn’t see in traditional occupational socialization.”

The grant will be split between UT, the University of California, Irvine and Northwestern University to carry out similar research projects around the world. The money will pay for travel between the United States, Brazil, Poland, Mexico and India, and it will also cover costs including office space and pay for graduate student hired to assist with research, Bailey said.

“Any time you get a grant, it’s a great day,” Bailey said. “It’s an opportunity for us to do exciting research.”

Bailey will collect data on Brazilian bankers, she said.

Technology has made it possible for anybody to get training to become a banker where it may not have been possible before, Bailey said. With more local banks around now, she said residents don’t have to travel to cities to cash their checks and spend money.

“Because people [were] spending their money in the city where their bank [was], they weren’t spending as much in the towns where they live,” Bailey said.

“One positive outcome for the community is a financial resurgence because of the correspondent model,” Bailey said.
Andrew Dillon, Dean of the School of Information, said the NSF grant recognizes the importance of information science in relation to the workplace.

“The right technology fosters connections between groups that allows for rapid organization and exchange of ideas without concern for distance,” Dillon said. “But with this comes unforeseen problems and challenges that will require analysis at the human and social levels to best exploit the technical power. We are becoming a vast socio-technical system that challenges existing structures.”

Communications studies graduate student Stephanie Dailey will be working with Bailey and will be traveling to Poland and India, she said.

“I’m going to be helping interview participants of the study,” Dailey said. “I’m really excited about collecting research in different countries. I haven’t had the opportunity to do that before.”