In the past, work was conceived as the physical capacity to carry out a difficult job which required physical fatigue. The labor potential of a community was thus determined by the volume of people who were in the condition to carry out any activity requiring physical strength. In the 20th and especially in the 21st century, however, quality rather than quantity or physical strength determined a community’s opportunities for economic and social development.
The employment world today requires knowledge and its application. The ability to take initiatives, creativity, flexibility to adapt to changes, vertical and horizontal communication skills are the values required by workers today. Thank God, the hardship and physical fatigue of labor were significantly alleviated by the use of machinery and instruments, which man invented and integrated in his labor activity.
Nonetheless, neither machines nor instruments are crucial to the working man of the 21st century. A worker who will have to perform his work in a world in which globalization will be a given, and in which he will required to have a mobility that his predecessors did not need. He will also be required to know, understand and live with cultures, principles and customs very different from his own, which his predecessors never even dreamed of, in addition to using new languages and living in homes foreign to his place of origin.
Today’s workers will have to grow accustomed to a less transparent process than his predecessors; less transparent in the sense that it is less physical. The tertiary, and even more, the fourth sector, are characterized by the immaterial nature of the goods and services which they produce and supply. There is room for greater subjectivity here, and opportunities for personal self-giving and enrichment, both for suppliers and recipients.
There has also been great progress in the determination of wage levels, though somewhat less in the family dimension. Some of the most significant advances include the maximum working day and the labor of minors, especially in more advanced countries. The same cannot be said for developing nations, however, in which this disgrace continues to exist. Substantial improvements have also been registered in the area of work safety and hygiene. However, along with all the changes in the labor environment, the theology of work, in which the worker has been granted the gift that he deserves for being created in the image of the Creator, continues to be the main focus of all analyses. Together with the objective dimension of work, whereby the individual offers goods and services for the good of the community, the worker and work itself are characterized by a subjective dimension, whereby man feels involved in the work of Creation and participates in the same mystery as Christ. Though work, man not only gives, but he gives himself, thus placing the creative power vested in him at the service of the community, and of the entire human family.
As the economic sphere broadened its scope, in the effort to more adequately meet human requirements, and as work relations became more in tune with the principles set forth in the Encyclical Rerum Novarum, better living conditions in general and better working conditions in particular, sowed a seed which would greatly