Monday, 13 June 2016

What percentage of workers in the knowledge economy are Knowledge Workers?

According to a UK study, it's either 33% or 60%, depending on how you define it.

The 30-30-40 knowledge economy workforce
Source, knowledge worker survey, the Work Foundation
The study in question is documented in a 2009 report by the Work Foundation entitled "Knowledge workers and knowledge work".

The study looked at a number of "knowledge based industries, including high- to medium-technology manufacturing, knowledge intensive services such as financial and business services, telecommunications and health and education, and the service sector.

It then looked at the actual work people do, rather than at variables such as education level. They divided work according to the amount of cognitive effort involved in the work tasks undertaken, and identified seven levels of work in the knowledge sector, described below:

  1. Leaders and innovators (11 per cent) such as Production and functional managers, financial institution and office managers, business and finance associate professionals.
  2. Experts and Analysts (22.1 per cent) suICT professionals, teaching professionals, managers and proprietors in service industries, research professionals, customer service occupations.
  3. Information handlers (12.8 per cent) such as General administrative occupations, secretarial occupations, financial institution and office managers, managers and proprietors in service industries, financial administrative occupations. 
  4. Care and welfare workers (7.5 per cent) such as Care associate professionals, care services, childcare services, social welfare associate professionals. 
  5.  Servers and sellers (7.0 per cent) such as Managers in distribution, storage and retailing, managers and proprietors in hospitality and leisure services, food preparation trades, elementary personal services. 
  6. Maintenance and logistics operators (11.3 per cent) such as Protective services, security occupations, transport drivers, metal machining, fitting and instrument making trades, science and engineering technicians, construction trades. 
  7. Assistants and clerks (28.3 per cent) such as Customer service occupations, sales assistants and retail cashiers.

When the study looked at typical tasks conducted by these groups, they found a decrease from 1 through 7 of tasks like advanced computer use, teaching others, and learning and sharing. The teaching others graph and learning and sharing table are both interesting (see below).

These figures allowed the Work Foundation to identify three types of knowledge workers within the knowledge economy:

  • "Core knowledge workers" - the Leaders and Innovators, Experts and Analysts, representing 33% of the sample, and who who most frequently engage in tasks requiring tacit knowledge in addition to codified knowledge.
  • "Moderate knowledge workers" - the information handlers, care and welfare workers, and servers and sellers, representing 27% of the sample, who engage in jobs with moderate knowledge content – primarily codified knowledge relating to the cluster specific tasks that define these jobs
  • "Occasional knowledge workers" - maintenance, logistics, assistants and clerks representing 40% of the sample, with only few tacit knowledge tasks and who rely largely on codified knowledge through manuals, rules and procedures.
This is where the 33/27/40 split in the pie chart above comes from. 

However we can see that to some extent, all these people need knowledge. The core knowledge workers need more of the tacit knowledge, the occasional knowledge workers need more of the explicit knowledge.  Many knowledge management programs are built around the needs of the moderate and occasional knowledge workers, such as the customer support KM programs aimed at supporting contact centre operatives, who probably sit in level 7 of the Work Foundation hierarchy. 

It might be more accurate to say that to some level, everyone is a knowledge worker, but that some are more knowledge workers than others, some are creators and some are consumers, and some work more with tacit and others more with codified knowledge. 

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