Knowledge Workers and Tomorrow’s Jobs

President Obama, in his 2015 State of the Union address, proposed that America’s community colleges be made tuition free.[1]  With advancing technology, including on-line instruction, that seems to me to be a sensible step. But only a step. America’s education system needs a comprehensive overhaul in order to educate enough people rapidly enough to meet the rapidly changing demands of the 21st century, rather than those of the 20th.

Peter Drucker discussed this need for what he termed “knowledge workers” and provides his usual profound insight to the matter. Here is a post from a year ago that discusses Drucker’s ideas. It is well worth repeating.    — C.H.


Peter Drucker and the Knowledge Worker (from 10 January 2016)

Peter Drucker is arguably the most widely respected of the 20th century management consultants. Drucker wrote over 30 books on management, which are largely focused on human behavior. His 1999 book, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, offers a forward looking assessment of what demographics suggested would be the key problems facing manager in the early decades of the 21st century. Drucker’s concept of a knowledge worker – those whose work is focused on knowledge and its applications – is central to this book. He contrasts knowledge workers with manual workers – those whose work is essentially focused on things and the manipulation of things.

The Knowledge Worker

With his characteristic bluntness and surety, Drucker states:

“Knowledge-worker productivity is the biggest of the 21st century management challenges. In the developed countries it is their first survival requirement. In no other way can the developed countries can the developed countries hope to maintain themselves, let alone to maintain their leadership and their standards of living.”

Drucker credits Fredrick Taylor’s “scientific management” for the awesome improvements in manual worker productivity that characterizes 19th and 20th century industry and agriculture in the developed countries. According to Drucker, those increases in productivity have been the primary source of incremental wealth in the developed world.

The industrial engineering concepts that constitute “scientific management” are quite portable, so they can be quickly applied anywhere, using workers with little education or training. Developing countries have lots of people, many with rudimentary educations at best, who are willing to work for close to pre-industrial wages. Developed countries have aging populations and declining birthrates, hence much higher wage expectations.  

The bottom line is that labor intensive, repetitive manufacturing in the developed countries simply isn’t competitive in this globalized world, a few special cases excepted (at least for a while). Developed countries need sophisticated work based in knowledge, rather than in method. Economies in developed countries need knowledge workers. As Drucker puts it:

“The only possible advantage developed countries can hope to have is in the supply of people prepared, educated and trained for knowledge work. There, for another fifty years, the developed countries can expect to have substantial advantages, both in quality and quantity”.

What To Do?

There have always been knowledge workers, so much is known about knowledge work. Much can be learned about knowledge worker productivity from professional firms such as surgical practices, legal firms, architectural firms and accountancy firms. Today’s medical practices, for example, have several types of knowledge workers – specialized nurses, radiological technicians, physician’s assistants and such – that enhance the productivity of physicians, the practices’ key resource..

For manufacturing firms that intend to become and remain Sustainable, significant changes in organizational practices and organizational structure will be needed. This means new and innovative business models. Obviously, doing all of this will require study, careful thought and even more careful implementation. There isn’t any real alternative to embracing the change. Start by reading (or re-reading) Peter Drucker’s Management Challenges for the 21st Century !

Chuck - Austrian AlpsThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are always welcome.


[1] For more on my thoughts on President Obama’s proposal, see: http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2015/01/24/tomorrows-talent/

 

Cultivating Disciplined Operations

In order for an organization to function effectively in a competitive world, a culture of disciplined operations is necessary. This does not mean the imposed discipline of a military boot camp. Rather, it means a voluntary coordination of efforts among all involved. As an ideal, consider a symphony orchestra, where a group of highly skilled musicians coordinate their personal talents to a mutually understood and desired end. Yes, a conductor does arrange the music and does direct the tempo. But it is the blended performances of the musicians that work the magic. — C.H.

Cultivating Disciplined Operations

Cultivate Text Box“Cultivating” is the right word here. A voluntary coordination of efforts comes about through a culture of mutual respect, directed toward a mutually desired end. It is that culture that needs to be cultivated. Here, “mutual respect” means a sincere regard for the interests and aspirations of everyone involved, diverse though those interests and aspirations may be. “Mutually desired end” refers to a condition in which everyone involved can prosper indefinitely.

An initial assessment of how closely a given organization’s culture approaches one of mutual respect, directed toward a mutually desired end is pretty easy. Employee turnover rates, absentee rates, equipment downtime rates and OSHA recordable safety incidents can readily be compared with relevant norms. Apply Pareto’s rule: if your organization isn’t comfortably in the top 20% for each of these, your competitive posture is at risk. [1] Even if your numbers are all in the top 20% — or even the top 1% — remember that everything and everyone can always improve. Including your competitors, today and tomorrow.

Here are some areas that require constant cultivation:

>> Safety: In manufacturing, a top notch safety program is essential. The benefits of a pain free working environment are immediately clear to everyone. Cultivation of safe operating practices is fundamental to the cultivation of mutual respect. [2]

>> Maintenance: Equipment and facilities need be designed for operability as well as for throughput. Poor working conditions and dysfunctional equipment are antithetical to the cultivation of mutual respect.

>> Training: It is not reasonable to ask anyone to participate in manufacturing operations absent a clear understanding of what that individual is to do and how to do it safely and effectively. My personal preference is that written work instructions be used as a basis for training materials. Trainers should be trained in how to train others. Understanding should be confirmed by demonstration.

>> ISO 9001: The ISO 9001 Standard for Quality Management Systems provides a systematic framework for disciplined operations. It is worth studying, even in part. Implementing systems compliant with the ISO 9001 Standard is a substantial undertaking. However, the cultivation of disciplined operations that occurs while doing so is a substantial reward for everyone and a substantial step toward an organization that can prosper indefinitely. [3]


Chuck in FranceThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

 

P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about prospering in the globalized 21st century … CH

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.


[1] For more on Pareto and operating performance, see Operational Excellence – The Performance Curve, this blog, http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2012/05/24/operational-excellence-the-performance-curve/

[2] For more on safety and its importance, see On Safety and Sustainability, this blog, http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2013/10/24/on-safety-and-sustainability/

[3] For more on the ISO 9001 Standard and its application, see What’s Wrong With ISO?, this blog,  http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2012/07/05/whats-wrong-with-iso/  and Keeping Up With ISO, this blog, http://jerasustainabledevelopment.com/2014/08/28/keeping-up-with-iso/