The general assumption is that older workers are paid more in spite of, rather than because of, their productivity. That might partly explain why, when employers are under pressure to cut costs, they persuade a 55-year old to take early retirement. Take away seniority-based pay scales, and older workers may become a much more attractive employment proposition. But most employers and many workers are uncomfortable with the idea of reducing someone’s pay in later life – although manual workers on piece-rates often earn less as they get older. So retaining the services of older workers may mean employing them in different ways.
One innovation was devised by IBM Belgium. Faced with the need to cut staff costs, and having decided to concentrate cuts on 55 to 60-year olds, IBM set up a separate company called Skill Team, which re-employed any of the early retired who wanted to go on working up to the age of 60. An employee who joined Skill Team at the age of 55 on a five-year contract would work for 58% of his time, over the full period, for 88% of his last IBM salary. The company offered services to IBM, thus allowing it to retain access to some of the intellectual capital it would otherwise have lost.
The best way to tempt the old to go on working may be to build on such ‘bridge’ jobs: part-time or temporary employment that creates a more gradual transition from full-time work to retirement. Studies have found that, in the United States, nearly half of all men and women who had been in full-time jobs in middle age moved into such ‘bridge’ jobs at the end of their working lives. In general, it is the best-paid and worst-paid who carry on working. There seem to be two very different types of bridge job-holder – those who continue working because they have to and those who continue working because they want to, even though they could afford to retire.
If the job market grows more flexible, the old may find more jobs that suit them. Often, they will be self-employed. Sometimes, they may start their own businesses: a study by David Storey of Warwick University found that in Britain 70% of businesses started by people over 55 survived, compared with an overall national average of only 19%. But whatever pattern of employment they choose, in the coming years the skills of these ‘grey workers’ will have to be increasingly acknowledged and rewarded.
Electronic libraries will make today’s Internet pale by comparison. But building them will not be easy.
All over the world, libraries have begun the Herculean task of making faithful digital copies of the books, images and recordings that preserve the intellectual effort of humankind. For armchair scholars, the work promises to bring such a wealth of information to the desktop that the present Internet may seem amateurish in retrospect.
Librarians see three clear benefits to going digital. First, it helps them preserve rare and fragile objects without denying access to those who wish to study them. The British Library, for example, holds the only medieval manuscript of Beowulf in London. Only qualified scholars were allowed to see it until Kevin S. Kiernan of the University of Kentucky scanned the manuscript with three different light sources (revealing details not normally apparent to the naked eye) and put the images up on the Internet for anyone to peruse. Tokyo’s National Diet Library is similarly creating highly detailed digital photographs of 1,236 woodblock prints, scrolls and other materials it considers national treasures so mat researchers can scrutinize them without handling the originals.
A second benefit is the convenience. Once books are converted to digital form, patrons can retrieve them in seconds rather than minutes. Several people can simultaneously read the same book or view the same picture. Clerks are spared the chore of reshelving. And libraries could conceivably use the Internet to lend their virtual collections to those who are unable to visit in person. The third advantage of electronic copies is that they occupy millimeters of space on a magnetic disk rather man meters on a shelf. Expanding library buildings is increasingly costly. The University of California at Berkeley recently spent $46 million on an underground addition to house 1.5 million books – an average cost of $30 per volume. The price of disk storage, in contrast, has fallen to about $2 per 300-page publication and continues to drop.
In most areas of the world, certainly in Europe, both the physical landscape and the maps of it are relatively stable. Map revision is usually concerned with manmade features, such as buildings and roads. This is not true of Antarctica. The Antarctic ice sheet is a dynamic entity and cartographers have to contend with big and rapid changes in the physical geography of the continent. For example, earlier this year they faced the dramatic break-up of the Larsen and Prince Gustav ice shelves in the Antarctic Peninsula region, which is where the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) concentrates its mapping activity. Topographic maps are probably changing faster in Antarctica than anywhere else in the world.