Knowledge worker is someone employed more because of their specific informational expertise or mastery of a subject or process instead of their ability to perform manual or physical labor. These individuals will tend to advance the information available about their subject because they are able to devote their time and energy to focused analysis, or even redesign and development of a process. They are somewhat like the pure researchers of the past -- they work to solve particular problems, influence organizational decisions, and set priorities and strategies through their own intellectual curiosity. Most experts say that the real differentiation of knowledge working is that it is "non-routine" problem solving based on higher level thinking (Reinhardt, et.al., 2011).
The idea of acquiring and disseminating knowledge is certainly not new, nor is the philosophical paradigm of how humans acquire and process that same knowledge. To understand the modern version of knowledge working, it is important to understand the basis for In essence, then, the critical question becomes: Can humans be certain of the existence of known objects, and if so, to what extend can humans be certain of this relationship? In the modern world then, rationalism has become "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge of justification (Lacey, 1996, 286). This, of course, has engendered numerous interpretations of the methodology of acquiring verifiable knowledge, and can be traced back to the Socratic life of inquiry, through hundreds of years of asking -- how do we know what we know? Is the "unique path to knowledge… that reason has precedence over other ways of acquiring knowledge?" (Audi, 1999, 771). And, if the task of exploring rationalism changed somehow by the actual study and interpretation of that knowledge. While we know that this basic question has been debated for centuries, it was Rene' Descartes who focused more that only the discovery of reasonable knowledge and eternal truths were found by reason alone. These truths, for Descartes, included the basic language of the universe for him -- mathematics, as well as the epistemological and metaphysical foundations of the sciences as a whole. Other knowledge, for example the knowledge required by utilizing one's experiences within the world, were aided by epistemological study (Markie, 2004). Decorates, too, found that the pursuit of truth was the foundation and reason for being and for the precise center of the individual road towards actualization. This resulted in Descartes deducing that this pursuit should include a sense of doubt about every belief -- question everything and the answers will arise. Thus, one of the main contributions of Descartes to the philosophical discourse was that as a result of his method of rationalization, reason alone determines knowledge -- completely independent of other senses.
Knowledge Workers in the 20th Century -- It appears the term "knowledge worker" was coined by Peter Drucker in the late 1950s as someone who works primarily with information and uses or develops knowledge in the workplace. A number of futurists, including Alvin Toffler surmised that the age of labor was over in the developed work, and that it would be knowledge capital that would drive organizations into the 21st century -- although many of these individuals predicted a far more robust and all-encompassing knowledge-based economy. As the Japanese business model began to improve and evolve a number of issues arose that focused on the way workers learn. Ikujiro Nonaka, scholar and influential business thinker, noted that knowledge was fuel for innovation, but that most managers did not understand how knowledge could be used or leveraged for profit. Nonaka believed that companies are more like living organisms than machines; with knowledge far from static and more renewable and evolving. Knowledge workers are then the agents for that change, and knowledge-creating companies should be focused upon innovation. This was the basis for knowledge management, which evolved in the 1990s as computing power drastically increased, so that workers would be supported with more tools allowing them to use knowledge as a commodity (Nonaka, 2007).
The rise of the knowledge worker was foreseen for years because of the manner in which technology and the Cold War changed the technological needs of the nation. ). "According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (1981), by the beginning of the 1970s around 40% of the working population in the U.S.A. And Canada were classified to the information sector, whereas in most other OECD countries the figures were still considerably lower" (Pyoria, 2005, p. 118). However, it was not just this linkage between knowledge and innovation, but the pace and rapidity of the half-life of technology and the growth of social media, the internet, and the ability for new and more powerful forms of collaboration to occur easily. This has a darker side, of course, in the concerns over copyright and intellectual property; but business and government certainly must team to solve more of the knowledge-based problems that plague modern society. One example, of course, is the Human Genome Project, which had elements of both public and private sector knowledge that was designed to benefit the informational world globally (Tapscott, 2006).
With this global expansion, though, more and more transactions in business are being conducted over the Internet, and more and more technologies are necessary to allow organizations to mine their way through tremendous amounts of data. This means there is a larger, and growing, increase for a workforce that is able to perform in knowledge-based economy. In fact, Knowledge workers are not thought to outnumber all other workers in North America by at least a 4:1 ratio (Haag, et.al., 206, p. 4). The roles of these knowledge workers tend to overlap other professions, in many ways expanding them. This has caused a clear shift in educational priorities since it is the lifelong learning paradigm that is so necessary to survive in the information age. Studies have shown, however, that in the 21st century, the demographic of the knowledge worker is changing -- more towards the X demographic. These new citizens of the information age value life-long learning as part of their very actualization process; not life-long employment. The Baby Boomer generation was proficient in specific knowledge with a specific organization; Generation X knowledge workers take knowledge from many firms, many organizational paradigms, and take that knowledge with them from company to company; using knowledge as specific collateral designed as their worth to the new organization (Bogdanowicz, M. And Bailey, 2002).
Analysis- My own experience in a software and hardware organization reflects knowledge worker functions in numerous ways. 1) We analyze data to establish relationships and then work off that data set; 2) We must continually work to make connections, understand cause and effect, and identify and understand trends in the marketplace; 3) We constantly brainstorm, but use convergent thinking to focus on a particular new problem; 4) We create and modify strategies based not on a specific work period (e.g. And 8-hour day), but by project; 5) Very little of our work is routine, with the exception of quality checks and backups, instead, it is vital, ever changing, and remains relatively complex requiring higher level thinking skills.
Table 1 -- Comparison of Knowledge and Non-Knowledge Workers
Checklists, concerned with productivity based on workers per hour or shift.
Project driven; concerned with output and ROI.
Movement from manufacturing "widgets" to understanding the needs of the consumer.
Rote learning and filing of tasks; unconcerned about the meaning of the information, just that it is accessible.
Understands the process, the value of the information, and is more a data miner and organizer than filer.
Required due to the vast amounts of information now necessary.
Little analysis and projection, more keeping track of a & b