Knowledge Workers vs Non Knowledge Workers

I have a lot of respect for the work that Anecdote does, but I'm going to have to come down entirely on Dave Snowden's side on the ongoing debate between him and Shawn.

I was pleased to see that Dave picked up on my comment about McDonald's employees not being knowledge workers. I think the attitude of management towards McDonald's staff is a clear example of why preserving the notion of a knowledge worker is still important.

For those insisting on a definition of "knowledge worker", mine is quite simple: it's being employed for the knowledge you bring rather than the knowledge you will be taught.

Yes, it's a simplification and ignores a lot of edge cases, but it captures an important large chunk of the difference.

To respond specifically to Dave's two questions:

  • In a world increasingly dominated by knowledge artifacts and knowledge workers, what happens in society to those who cannot for reasons of intelligence or opportunity gain access to education at key points in their development. Or what happens to those whose skills are out of date before they are 40? Do they all end up working in McDonalds?
    This is a borderline accusation that some people are incapable of learning. I very much doubt this is the case. Most people who don't have a white-collar education will still be required in the highly skilled, un-outsourcable trades vocations such as electrical work, plumbing, building, etc. (It's worth noting that these are also professions which, on the whole, intuitively practice knowledge work in a way which white-collar industries can only pine for.)
  • (More a rhetorical statement than a question, but) education in the developing worlds has been dominated by the economic requirements of empire. Either to train people to execute those jobs which the developed world cannot execute at low wages (call centres etc) or to attempt to spread the imperial culture by replicating its educational and political system around the world. The former is cruel as the work merely moves on to the less costly venue, the latter is also cruel as it destroys rather than creates wisdom.
    This is a far more complex question that makes a lot of moral assumptions about "cruelty". My initial reaction is that outsourced work is a "McDonald's"-style job executed at the global level -- specifically, since the outsourced job employs primarily on headcount rather than skillset, countries will only perform these jobs until their standards of education and living allow them to leapfrog into a more fulfulling role.

    On the second charge of cruelty, I think that cultures worth preserving tend to be quite resilient. Using my own Australian culture as an example, people often bemoan the charge of "Americanization" and the import of American food, cultures and concepts. However, you only have to look at the recent Australian election, where the public resoundingly rejected a workplace relations system that is far more protected and unionized than the American model, and you will see that the Australian culture, in reality, preserves values which are important to us.