[EAS]Knowledge Technologists

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Thu Nov 8 03:13:46 EST 2001

Subject:   Knowledge Technologists

(from Edupage, November 7, 2001)

Companies complain that universities are not producing students
competent enough to fill much-needed IT positions. Academics such
as University of Maryland CIO Jack Seuss argue that it is not
their business to churn out graduates with hot skills. However,
educators and companies can work together to produce the kind of
graduates CIOs are looking for. For example, UPS teamed up with
Georgia State University to find a way to quickly infuse the
company with Web layout and development professionals. The result
was a 21-week training program that handed out two certifications.
The instructors were supplied by the school, while UPS contributed
the facilities. IT and computer information systems initiatives
backed by business schools are also making a greater attempt to
create training programs that fulfill industry objectives.
Instructors can take a leave of absence in order to update their
knowledge and attain new skills in the real world, after which
they can return to the university and teach what they have
learned to their students.
(CIO, 1 November 2001)

This is an apt example of what Peter Drucker is talking about in
his "The Next Society" article which I commented on recently:

> High-knowledge workers such as doctors, lawyers, scientists,
> clerics and teachers have been around for a long time, although
> their number has increased exponentially in the past 100 years. The
> largest group of knowledge workers, however, barely existed until
> the start of the 20th century, and took off only after the second
> world war. They are knowledge technologists­people who do much of
> their work with their hands (and to that extent are the successors
> to skilled workers), but whose pay is determined by the knowledge
> between their ears, acquired in formal education rather than
> through apprenticeship. They include X-ray technicians,
> physiotherapists, ultrasound specialists, psychiatric case workers,
> dental technicians and scores of others. In the past 30 years,
> medical technologists have been the fastest-growing segment of the
> labour force in America, and probably in Britain as well. 
> In the next 20 or 30 years the number of knowledge technologists in
> computers, manufacturing and education is likely to grow even
> faster. Office technologists such as paralegals are also
> proliferating. And it is no accident that yesterday's "secretary"
> is rapidly turning into an "assistant", having become the manager
> of the boss's office and of his work. Within two or three decades,
> knowledge technologists will become the dominant group in the
> workforce in all developed countries, occupying the same position
> that unionised factory workers held at the peak of their power in
> the 1950s and 60s.

As a university's educational plans evolve, should we not maintain
a distinction, in durability of educational fundamentals, between
professionals (doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers), those whom
Drucker calls "high-knowledge workers", and the "knowledge
technologists"? In the thrall of early stages of information
technologies one is liable to blur the two. Drucker sees the
(re)education of knowledge technologists as growing into a very
large and delectably lucrative market. In the process, formal
educational categorizations will be further challenged:

> The most important thing about these knowledge workers is that they
> do not identify themselves as "workers" but as "professionals".
> Many of them spend a good deal of their time doing largely
> unskilled work, eg, straightening out patients' beds, answering the
> telephone or filing. However, what identifies them in their own and
> in the public's mind is that part of their job involves putting
> their formal knowledge to work. That makes them full-fledged
> knowledge workers.

Modern information technologies are a fluid highly effective in
dissolving not only traditional academic departmental boundaries,
but also those between "professionals" and "workers." Do read
Drucker's article.  --PJK

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