Specialisation and the division of labour

Specialisation occurs when an individual, a firm, a region, or a country concentrates in the production of a limited range of goods and services.  It has led to increases in the productivity of medicinal drugs, aircraft manufacture, tourism, and financial and business services. These goods and services can then be traded for other goods and services produced by other countries.

Specialisation can have disadvantages, notably when demand for a good or service falls, leading to a significant increase in unemployment. Also, a country specialising in the production and export of non-renewable resources may face problems of resource depletion.

The division of labour is one form of specialisation, where individuals concentrate on the production of a particular good or service. Production is broken down into a series of tasks, conducted by different workers. For example, house construction involves a range of specialist labour, including architects, surveyors, bricklayers, carpenters and electricians.

Advantages of the division of labour

  • A person who spends time on one task quickly becomes highly skilled in it, e.g. a tyre fitter in a garage
  • No time is wasted in moving from one job to another, e.g a sandwich packer on a production line
  • Capital equipment can be used continuously for production, e.g the machinery on a motor vehicle production line
  • Less time is required to train workers for specific tasks
  • There is more choice of jobs for workers and they can specialise in tasks they are most suited to, e.g a person who likes rock climbing might specialise in work as an outdoor pursuits leader

These benefits lead to a higher output per worker and thus help reduce the cost per unit of output. Overall, living standards increase.

Disadvantages of the division of labour

  • Repetition creates monotony and boredom. There could be a high turnover of staff, leading to increased recruitment and selection costs.
  • Breaking down production into different tasks takes it easier to replace skilled workers with machines, leading to structural unemployment
  • Specialisation creates interdependence in production. If one group of workers goes on strike, it could halt production across the whole industry. For example, when train drivers call a 1-day stoppage, they disrupt the work of guards and ticket inspectors, as well as that of many commuters

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