ontinuous learning and development for knowledge workers is important for modern companies. In today’s age of learning and development, the online content, collaboration tools, and social media fuel a training model where employees can share their knowledge and skills freely. Traditional employee training is being revolutionized by flipped classrooms, learning-centric models, and an explosion of content delivered over a variety of new online and mobile platforms. This article reviews corporate knowledge sharing theories and explores a new training and learning model for corporate learning. The new model highlights the challenges companies must meet to create development programs that really work for their employees. The article illustrates the new learning and development model and programs and the value to the organization’s innovation and productivity.
Twenty-first century companies are staffed and propelled by knowledge workers. The term “knowledge worker” was coined by Peter Drucker in a 1959 book titled Landmarks of Tomorrow (Drucker, 1994). Drucker further noted that as a result of the social transformation from the old industrial society to a new knowledge society in the 1990s, the newly emerging knowledge society is characterized by a rising class of knowledge workers who lead and develop a new knowledge-based economy. According to Drucker’s description, the rising knowledge workers have access to better-paying jobs that require intellectually challenging qualifications not possessed by industrial workers. To qualify for the jobs of the knowledge economy, knowledge workers must have formal education, the ability to acquire and apply theoretical and analytical knowledge, and the habit of continuous learning of new knowledge. Continuous learning utilizing the ubiquitous information technology and online media is also becoming an inseparable part of the employee professional development for the future workforce. Even though there is a forecast of positive outlook for future employment in most industries, it will be critical to reskill and upskill current workers in order to avoid the possible future scenario of technological developments accompanied by talent shortages, mass unemployment and increasing inequality (World Economic Forum, 2016).
There have been subsequent research and further elaboration on the requirements and qualifications for the knowledge workers for the 21st century. Davenport and Prusak (1998) emphasized that good knowledge workers should possess both technical know-how, such as technical abilities and professional experience, and intuitive skills, such as a sense of cultural, political, and personal aspects of knowledge. Brown (1999) observed that the globalization of work and continuing advances in technology are changing the nature of the work force by directing workers toward the more complex tasks that require thinking, learning, and problem solving. Brown concluded that the main value of knowledge workers to an organization is their ability to gather and analyze information and make decisions that will benefit the organization. Due to the rapid advancements in technology, modern companies often have to update and upgrade the knowledge and skills of their employees in order to maintain their business competiveness (Pretz, 2016).
To help knowledge workers reach their maximum effectiveness and top performance at work, Drucker (1999) identified six major factors related to knowledge workers that determine their productivity in the 21st century. These factors and demands are: (a) Knowledge workers always ask and know what the task is, (b) knowledge workers have to manage themselves and have autonomy, (c) knowledge workers are responsible for continuing innovation as an integral part of their work and task, (d) knowledge workers should keep up learning and knowledge sharing for their knowledge work, (e) knowledge worker productivity is measured primarily not by quantity but by quality of output, and (f) knowledge workers must be treated as valuable assets instead of costs of the organization so that they will enjoy working for the organization. Self-management and autonomy are especially important for knowledge worker productivity. McElroy (2003) proposed the concept of “embryology of knowledge” (p. 105), which means individuals in an organization should have certain extent of freedom to pursue their own ideas and learning agendas and self-organize into knowledge-making groups and communities. According to McElroy, organizations depend heavily on individual interests and passions for inspiration and sources of creative thinking and innovation. Therefore, McElroy suggested that organizational policies should allow workers maximum autonomy, freedom, and self-management in learning and knowledge-sharing. Accordingly, knowledge workers in the 21st century should expect and make the best use of such freedom and autonomy for knowledge work. Drucker (1999) offered important advice on how knowledge workers of the 21st century should manage themselves to be successful. The advice areas also reflect the desirable characteristics for knowledge workers. According to Drucker, knowledge workers of the 21st century should focus on and keep improving their strengths to produce the best performance and results. Drucker also warned knowledge workers against bad habits and personality mistakes, such as intellectual arrogance and bad manners, which are detrimental to the effectiveness of knowledge work.
Concurrent with the development of knowledge economy is the rapid development of information technology (IT), which plays an increasingly important role in the knowledge work in the 21st century. The study by Hlupic, Pouloudi, and Rzevski (2002) confirmed that knowledge workers are increasingly competent in the use of information technology and virtual working environments. Therefore, competency in information technology and emerging communication tools is a required and often assumed qualification for effective knowledge workers of the 21st century. Gurteen (2006) provided a comprehensive list of key attributes describing the habits, skills, values, attitudes, and behaviors of an effective knowledge worker for the 21st century. These key attributes include strong subject expertise in a specific area and the ability to identify critical knowledge for a certain goal, strong and effective communication and connection skills in networking with other people, and a strong belief in the value of knowledge sharing. According to Gurteen, effective knowledge workers should also demonstrate personal integrity, confidence, and trustworthiness in working with others. In addition, Gurteen pointed out that knowledge workers should be ready to experiment, take calculated risks, and make decisions and take responsibilities.
The next generation of workers are not only knowledge workers but also innovation workers. Innovation is not naturally born a learnable skill (Intrepid Learning Solutions, 2012). The innovation workers not only use knowledge to understand and make decisions and judgement on their work but also keep learning to seek creative solutions to constantly improve their work and products (Herring, 2012). Innovation workers should also have the ability and skills to adapt to changes and stay employable and competitive. Access to education and training opportunities are essential factors for the next generation workers to be both knowledge workers and innovations workers and keep up with the changing world (Brewer, 2013).
Continuous learning by knowledge sharing in a positive learning and development environment is a key success factor to innovation and growth of modern companies. However, there are often challenges and barriers to knowledge sharing and learning in reality. Twenty-first century knowledge workers need frequent learning and professional development to keep up their knowledge and skills in order drive corporate innovation and competitiveness. However, there are various challenges and barriers to knowledge sharing and learning in a corporate environment and effective learning, and development models and programs with positive attributes and motivation are needed to implement effective corporate knowledge management and successful learning and development. Examples of positive learning environment attributes include a knowledge-oriented culture, technical and organizational infrastructure, senior management support, link to economic performance or industry value, clear vision and language, nontrivial motivational practices, and standard and flexible knowledge structure, and multiple channels for knowledge transfer.
Brewer, L. (2013). Enhancing youth employability: What? Why? and How? Guide to core work skills. International Labor Organization. Retrieved from http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_emp/---ifp_skills/documents/publication/wcms_213452.pdf
Capgemini Consulting and MIT Center of Business Digital Research, Digital Transformation: A Roadmap of Billion dollar Organizations, 2011
Chryssolouris, G., Mavrikios, D., & Mourtzis, D. (2013). Manufacturing systems: Skills & competencies for the future. Procedia CIRP, 7(2013), 17 – 24.
Drucker, P. F. (1999). Management challenges of the 21st century. New York, NY: Harper Business.
Ferrazai, K. (2015, July 31). 7 Ways to improve employee development programs. Harvard Business Review.
Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/07/7-ways-to-improve-employee-development-programs
Herring, S. (2012). Rethinking the knowledge worker for the 21st century. In The innovation worker: Rethinking the knowledge worker for the 21st century (pp. 1-2).
Retrieved from http://intrepidlearning.com/downloads/ebooks/eBook-Intrepid-InnovationWorker.pdf
Intrepid Learning Solutions. (2012). The innovation worker: Rethinking the knowledge worker for the 21st century.
Retrieved from http://intrepidlearning.com/downloads/ebooks/eBook-Intrepid-InnovationWorker.pdf
Jerald, C. D. (2009). Defining a 21st century education. Retrieved from http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Learn-About/21st-Century/Defining-a-21st-Century-Education-Full-Report-PDF.pdf