A New Perspective on Knowledge Management Research: The Role of Vocational Professionals

A New Perspective on Knowledge Management Research: The Role of Vocational Professionals

Sari Metso (Lappeenranta University of Technology, Finland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1969-2.ch010
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Abstract

Knowledge management theories emphasize the role of knowledge work and knowledge workers in knowledge-intensive organizations. However, technologization has changed the knowledge work environment. Many knowledge workers create, process, and share simplified information in digitalized networks. This complicates the profession-based definitions of knowledge workers. This chapter contributes to the emerging concern about the future trends of knowledge management. First, the chapter suggests that knowledge management models ignore a large group of professionals possessing practical knowledge. These vocational professionals are considered a new target group for knowledge management. Vocational professionals’ practical knowledge is worth managing since they operate with organizational core functions. Second, this chapter presents an alternative education-based categorization of workers. The different functions of KM are manifest in the three categories: a diminishing group of workers without professional qualifications, a large group of vocational professionals, and a group of workers with higher education.
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Background

It is argued that knowledge workers are an expanding group of labor. Many rich countries strongly advocate higher education (Alvesson, 2004). Knowledge workers are seen as a significant group in modern organizations (Drucker, 2000; Pyöriä, 2005). The definitions of knowledge workers are discussed widely, but the problem is their ambiguity and difficulty to apply them in practice. In general, knowledge workers are considered highly educated labor receiving, processing, and creating new knowledge with the help of information technology. These tasks are associated with special skills and competency. Generally, knowledge workers are expected to use intellectual abilities and make decisions. They are assumed to have autonomy, as well as a high hierarchical position, and they perform non-routine tasks (Pyöriä, 2005).

There are various definitions describing knowledge work. However, Pyöriä (2005) found some common characteristics in his review of knowledge work concepts, such as higher education, advanced skills, and utilizing information technology in the informational labor process. Modern knowledge work is part of the information society characterized as a complex, increasingly specialized multifactor field under continuous change. Information creation, processing, and sharing are important factors of production in this environment. Knowledge work, its output, and knowledge workers are defined through their information-intensiveness. Knowledge workers are dealing with processes instead of distinct tasks (Pyöriä, 2005). Communication systems, such as wireless mobile networks, social networks, the Internet, the Web, and audiovisual systems, have an important role in facilitating these tasks.

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