Specialization involves giving workers individual job roles to remove the responsibility of other jobs and reducing the worker's capacity to one task in particular. There are many advantages and disadvantages to specialization, which became commonplace during the industrial revolution with the creation of factories. Factory owners would not simply hire one worker who produces all the goods. The work is divided among many different workers and each employee becomes a cog in a large machine.
Efficiency and Skill Honing
Perhaps the biggest advantage of specialization, emphasized by Karl Marx, is an increase in efficiency as workers become more skilled in the specific jobs they do. Workers in a factory who are responsible for only one part of the process become as skilled as they possibly can in that process without the distraction of learning other skills.
Sociologist Emile Durkheim wrote of the benefits of specialization in “The Division of Labor in Society.” He said the specialization of people in society into different labor roles brings more than just economic efficiency. He argues that the true function of specialization is to create a common feeling of solidarity between people. People are united by their common job role, form unions, socialize together and understand each other based on the similarity of their lives.
One of the key disadvantages of specialization is that jobs often become monotonous. People like variety, and if their jobs become the same process over and over again, they become tedious, empty and unsatisfying.
Labor as a Commodity
Specialization changed people’s roles in society. In the past people were involved in the whole process from start to finish -- such as with carpenters building furniture and selling it to people they met face-to-face -– and they gained a sense of satisfaction from being useful to other people. With specialization, people rarely meet the end users of the products they produce and are merely selling their labor for a price as if it were a commodity. They become identical to other workers, job satisfaction decreases and a “just doing my job” work ethic reduces the quality of job performance.