Knowledge Work in The 21st Century
Davenport (2005, p. 4) says that the rise of knowledge work has actually been foreseen for years. He points to the fact that Fritz Machlup did a lot of the early work on both knowledge as well as knowledge work roles and as early as 1958 stated that the sector was growing much faster than the rest of the economy with knowledge workers making up almost a third of the workforce in the United States (Davenport, 2005, p. 4). "According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (1981), by the beginning of the 1970s around 40 percent of the working population in the USA and Canada were classified to the information sector, whereas in most other OECD countries the figures were still considerably lower" (Pyöriä, 2005, p. 118).
Tapscott (2006) sees a strong, on-going linkage between knowledge workers and innovation, but the pace and manner of interaction have become more advanced. He describes social media tools on the internet that now drive more powerful forms of collaboration. Knowledge workers engage in ‘’peer-to-peer’’ knowledge sharing across organizational and company boundaries, forming networks of expertise. Some of these are open to the public. While he echoes concern over copyright and intellectual property law being challenged in the marketplace, he feels strongly that businesses must engage in collaboration to survive. He sees on-going alliance of public (government) and private (commercial) teams to solve problems, referencing the open source Linux operating system along with the Human Genome Project as examples where knowledge is being freely exchanged, with commercial value being realized.
Due to the rapid global expansion of information-based transactions and interactions being conducted via the Internet, there has been an ever-increasing demand for a workforce that is capable of performing these activities. Knowledge Workers are now estimated to outnumber all other workers in North America by at least a four to one margin (Haag et al., 2006, pg. 4).
While knowledge worker roles overlap heavily with professions that require college degrees, the comprehensive nature of knowledge work in today's connected workplace requires virtually all workers to obtain these skills at some level. To that end, the public education and community college systems have become increasingly focused on lifelong learning to ensure students receive skills necessary to be productive knowledge workers in the 21st century.
Many of the knowledge workers currently entering the workforce are from the generation X demographic. These new knowledge workers value life-long learning over life-long employment (Bogdanowitz and Bailey, 2002). "They seek employability over employment value career over self-reliance" (Elsdon and Iyer, 1999). Where baby boomers are proficient in specified knowledge regarding a specific firm, generation X knowledge workers acquire knowledge from many firms and take that knowledge with them from company to company(2002).
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