Knowledge Work

Knowledge WorkThe term knowledge work refers to a profession that utilizes intellectual capital to create, teach, and problem solve. Knowledge work requires significant cognitive activity and dedication to continuous learning on behalf of the practitioner. Day-to-day knowledge work consists of non-routine and non-repetitive activities. Examples of knowledge workers include, but are not limited to, doctors, lawyers, researchers, engineers, and consultants. Knowledge workers have expertise in their fields, and they stay current on theoretical and practical applications in their fields. They add value to their professions and to others through the creation of new theories, information, services, and products. Knowledge work requires formal education and incorporates theoretical knowledge in the creation of new information. Knowledge work is not solely applied tacit knowledge. For example, an experienced waitperson is not a knowledge worker even though he or she may know the menu and the customers at the restaurant very well.

Knowledge work is part of a larger economic shift. The transition from the industrial age to the information age has caused a shift in the labor market from the production of material goods to the production and management of services, many of which are based on the acquisition, transformation, or application of information. This economic shift has increased the number of knowledge workers and has also highlighted issues specific to knowledge work and knowledge workers.

Some of the issues being addressed include how to manage knowledge workers individually and in teams and how to better prepare students for work of the future. The increase in knowledge-work professionals and knowledge-based organizations has also raised issues about the measurement and management of intellectual capital. For example, in the past, many businesses owned buildings, equipment, and inventories of goods. A knowledge-based company, for example a consulting firm, may not own any buildings, equipment, or tangible goods. Instead, its assets lie in the intellectual capital held by its professionals, who provide consulting services to clients. Because managing human capital is different from managing other capital assets, knowledge-based companies face managerial challenges different from those that confront industrial companies.

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  1. Davenport, T., Jarvenpaa, S. and Beers, M. 1996. “Improving Knowledge Work Processes.” Sloan Management Review 37:53.
  2. Sorrells-Jones, J. 1999. “Knowledge Workers and Knowledge-intense Organizations, Part 1: A Promising Framework for Nursing and Healthcare.” Journal of Nursing Administration 29:12-18.
  3. Tucker, M. S. 1988. “Peter Drucker, Knowledge Work, and the Structure of Schools.” Educational Leadership 45(5):44.