The term "knowledge work" was coined by management consultant Peter Drucker, who forecast in 1973 that, within two decades, it would become impossible to maintain a middle class lifestyle by working with one’s hands. Drucker’s prescient comment signaled that the world we knew was changing. He called the new work that would be required to enter the middle class "knowledge work" and the people who performed it "knowledge workers."
In the last decade of the 20th Century and first decade of the 21st, we have seen Drucker's prediction come true. Today, all desirable jobs in industrialized economies – and increasingly in developing economies as well – require a higher component of knowledge than they did in the past. It is by applying knowledge and specialized skills that employees add enough value to what they do to justify the cost of employing them. In the future, any employee whose "value-added" does not exceed his or her salary cost can expect to be replaced, sooner or later, by software or hardware. A continuous improvement in an evolving range of skills is the only route to personal prosperity.
What Communities Can Do
Intelligent Communities exhibit the determination and demonstrated ability to develop a workforce qualified to perform knowledge work from the factory floor to the research lab, and from the construction site to the call center or corporate headquarters.
What are the tools available to a community to do this work?
It is generally accepted that the opportunity to create healthy and productive citizens begins in infancy and continues throughout our lives, ranging from pre-school programs to secondary school, technical colleges to graduate schools.
Local governments control only some of these assets, so it must seek opportunities to collaborate with many levels of government, business and institutions. It may have to work with partners outside the region as well and provide them with motivation to bring educational assets - from enrichment programs to satellite campuses - into the community.
The final piece of the puzzle is the "last mile" from graduation into employment. In Intelligent Communities, local government works closely with schools and employers to give students first-hand experience of career opportunities and develop specialized courses to prepare students for careers in the community's leading and emerging industries. The more that educational institutions extend their ambitions into employers - and that employers open themselves up to educators - the more prosperous the community will be.
Creating a Culture for Knowledge Work
Growing your own knowledge workers is one part of the task. Keeping them and attracting more is another. In general, knowledge workers seek a good quality of life and believe they should be able to afford it. Because they have skills, they are also willing to move in search of it. Intelligent Communities invest in physical and digital (e.g. e-government) assets that enhance their quality of life and provide ease and convenience to citizens and businesses in their dealings with government. Wise investment and smart deployment of these programs can make even small and remote communities highly competitive in the global battle for talent.