A knowledge worker is someone who is employed due to his or her knowledge of a subject matter, rather than their ability to perform manual labor. It includes those in the information technology fields, such as computer programmers, systems analysts, technical writers and so forth. The term can also refer to people outside of information technology but who are hired for their knowledge of some subject, such as lawyers, teachers, and scientists.
The term was coined by Peter Drucker in 1959, as one who works primarily with information or one who develops and uses knowledge in the workplace. To emphasise the collaborative nature of knowledge work, and distinguish knowledge workers from other jobs that require skill and experience, the theory of human interaction management replaces the term knowledge worker with the term interaction worker.
Due to the constant industrial growth in North America and globally, there is increasing need for an academically capable workforce. In direct response to this, Knowledge Workers are now estimated to outnumber all other workers in North America by at least a four to one margin.
Alvin Toffler observed that typical knowledge workers such as research and development scientists, engineers, and technology managers in the age of knowledge economy and society must have some system at their disposal to create, process and enhance their own technological knowledge. In some cases they also manage the technical knowledge of their coworkers.
The third wave of human socioeconomic development is described by Charles Savage in Fifth Generation Management. The first wave was the Agricultural Age with wealth defined as ownership of land. In the second wave, the Industrial Age, wealth was based on ownership of Capital such as factories. In the Knowledge Age, wealth is based upon the ownership of knowledge and the ability to use that knowledge to create or improve goods and services. Product improvements include cost, durability, suitability, timeliness of delivery, and security.
A Technology Literate Knowledge Worker is educated when it comes to the correct applications of technology. The individual understands what type of technology best suits the company by knowing the technology available and weighing the benefits of each option before making the final decision. The worker is also aware that there must be adequate technological infrastructure in order for the product to work effectively. The worker’s most important ability is the knowledge of when to apply technology. If the Technology Literate Knowledge Worker applies technology at the correct time it can make, or save the organization a significant amount, while using technology when it isn’t needed can be costly.
An example of a Technology Literate Worker is a database administrator who is responsible for ensuring that the databases are functioning properly, while attempting to maximize the databases value to the organization. The database administrator must incorporate a database management system that is compatible with the company’s existing systems and goals. Their primary objective is to maintain a system that is effective and efficient, while keeping it easy to operate. They are also given the task of remaining current with the new technologies available, so that any opportunity to improve the company’s technology can be capitalized on immediately.