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Knowledge Worker


The Industrial Revolution gave birth to a large base of manufacturing jobs. These often required physical labor but little thought on the part of workers: employees repetitively operated machines and performed a limited range of physical tasks. During the latter half of the 20th century, however, information began to play a more central role in the world of work, particularly in advanced industrial economies. This process shifted the job base away from manufacturing and toward new forms of labor. With the introduction of computers, it became possible for companies to process, analyze, and share vast amounts of data. As the processing speed and memory capacity of computers increased and the number of users connected to networks grew, the role of knowledge and information also grew in importance.

The term "knowledge worker" describes workers whose roles involve making decisions and analyzing information. It is sometimes used in the wider context of knowledge management, which refers to how companies manage and use intellectual capital, or what their employees know. Although many assume the term "knowledge worker" is new, it actually was coined by well-known business commentator Peter Drucker in his 1959 book Landmarks of Tomorrow. It not only includes people in technical fields, but extends to other professionals and students in fields like science, law, and education.

A variety of tasks are central to the role of a knowledge worker including planning, marketing, researching, analyzing, strategizing, communicating, organizing, and negotiating. According to The Kudos Partnership Ltd., a U.K.-based provider of information and human resources services, knowledge workers are defined by three broad characteristics: being part of real or virtual teams; using information technology for everyday tasks; and working with information that provides a business advantage and that impacts results. Automotive Manufacturing & Production explains that there are different classes of knowledge workers: those who perform specialty knowledge work; those with more portable knowledge, including those with graduate degrees in business; and those who focus on the creation of knowledge and innovation like engineers and programmers.

In the early 2000s formal training was available for those interested in harnessing the full potential of knowledge work. The Innovation Management Institute offered the Knowledge Management Certification Program "designed to provide education and support to serious KM practitioners." Complying with standards established by the Knowledge Management Certification Board, the program was used by more than 1,000 professionals from organizations like IBM, Xerox, Compaq, Pfizer, the U.S. Navy, and AT&T Solutions.


Dove, Rick. "The Knowledge Worker." Automotive Manufacturing & Production. June 1998.

"Enter the Knowledge Worker." The Kudos Partnership Ltd. June 13, 2001. Available from

"KM Certification Training Program Overview." Innovation Management Institute. June 13, 2001. Available from

SEE ALSO: Information Revolution vs. Industrial Revolution; Intellectual Capital; Knowledge Management; Workforce, E-commerce

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