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Understanding the knowledge worker in the new economy

Tuesday, 06 September 2011
09:00 - 12:00
The Work Foundation, 21 Palmer Street, London, SW1H 0AD


  • Charles Levy, Senior Researcher, The Work Foundation's Knowledge Economy Programme
  • Dr Ben Reid, Senior Researcher, The Work Foundation's Centre for Workforce Effectiveness
  • Ian Brinkley, Director, The Work Foundation's Socio-Economic programmes

More employees than ever before are knowledge workers. Depending on the measure used, knowledge workers now make up a third to over a half of the workforce, and there is little doubt that these proportions will continue to rise over the coming decades. Yet despite these over-arching trends, relatively little thought seems to have been given to what knowledge work involves, and what it means for people and organisations.

Knowledge workers are no more likely to be in flexible work arrangements than other workers, are no more likely to be self employed, and show no strong preference for employment in "innovation rich" environments. But the rise of the knowledge worker clearly has a wider significance than is shown in economic statistics.

Knowledge workers do fundamentally different tasks, and need to be managed in different ways to other workers - modern organisations invest heavily in systems from IT to knowledge management to get the most out of their workforce. Meanwhile, the rise of the specialist recruitment agency, and the fact that firms tended to hold on to more of their workers than during previous recessions, suggests that firms have a different type of relationship with their knowledge workers.

About the session:

The Work Foundation hosted a Chatham House discussion on the shape and context of the forthcoming inquiry into Knowledge Workers in the UK. It brought together a cross sector group of senior leaders from knowledge intensive organisations for a high level roundtable to exchange ideas and insights. This session brought Knowledge Economy research to life by exploring what impact the rise of knowledge work has had on how organisations recruit, motivate and manage their staff, and how they design their whole organisations.

Key questions:

  • How has the rise of knowledge workers changed the relationship between employers and employees?
  • How can organisations ensure that they can attract, motivate and retain the most effective knowledge workers?
  • What effect has the knowledge economy had on how firms organise themselves?

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