The knowledge worker or group of knowledge workers might be the newest thing to come to the workplace since the “paperless office.” But while the paperless office isn’t yet here, knowledge workers are, and in a big way!
What is a Knowledge Worker?
A knowledge worker is someone who takes pride in their ability to learn and communicate the intricacies of a certain business, business model, or an entire industry. They not only seek to explain their job or business to others, but should have at least some interest in expanding their own horizon about how a certain something works. Does it require an MBA or even a masters in social work degree? Not necessarily, in fact, many knowledge workers operate in industries that do not require credentials like computer science, or other high-tech enterprises.
This may include research, independent study or even the publication of their ideas. In many cases, today’s knowledge workers may be best exemplified by the blogging community, where thousands of people write entries and study the depths of their own fields of work and interest, and help explain, in colloquial terms, their particular interests.
The 1950’s, manufacturing, and thinking workers
The term “knowledge workers” was first coined in 1959 by Peter Drucker who, along with many others, saw a future shift in business. He believed that as time went by the knowledge worker will be in even greater demand in all industries, not just academia or research.
Interestingly, at the time he coined the phrase, the United States was headed toward a long decline in manufacturing output followed by growth in the service sector, and an explosion in the number of knowledge workers. Today, the United States leads the world in value-added from thought. That is, American designers, architects, bankers, and engineers add more value to a product than do the people who put it together.
This explains, at least partially, why goods are designed and financed in the United States before the manufacturing element fires on all cylinders along the Pacific Rim, where labor is cheapest. (Some US manufacturing jobs are coming back, however.)
Marks of a Knowledge Worker:
- Dedicated primarily to research, or developing new ideas
- Provides the most thought-labor, opposed to hands-on, manual labor
- Typically works in fields that require a college degree, though this is not always the case
So, are you a knowledge worker?