More and more often one hears the words knowledge workers, being bandied around, but what exactly is a knowledge worker and how do they differ from other workers?

Knowledge workers are workers whose main capital is knowledge. This means that their tasks would include developing and using knowledge. Knowledge workers would be able to use their intellect to convert ideas into products, processes and services. They are also problem solvers, and tend to use their intellectual capacity rather than manual skills in order to make a living.

Knowledge workers have the ability to add value to an organisation by processing existing information and creating new information that would then be used to solve problems. Examples of knowledge workers would be engineers, doctors, architects, scientists, accountants and lawyers.

When it comes to the mining industry, knowledge workers play an integral role. The Mining Industry Human Resources (MiHR) Council is Canada’s national council for the minerals and metals industry. They give a very good description of exactly who knowledge workers are and what their role in mining is.

They say they are typically defined as workers who are highly educated, technically savvy and involved in work that leads to the creation of knowledge and innovation. Also that they can apply theory and factual knowledge quickly and creatively to solve complex problems by shifting parameters. So keeping all this in mind, what qualifications do you need to have to be included in this elite desired group of knowledge workers in the mining industry?

MiHR Statistics Canada defines Highly Qualified Personnel, called KWs here, as “individuals with university degrees at the Bachelor’s level and above”. This definition includes a minimum educational standard but does not include industry experience. Consistent with the Statistics Canada definition, the Canadian Federation of Earth Sciences defines KWs as geoscientists that have obtained a minimum Bachelor’s education. This group also highlights the specific need for graduate-level education to fulfil research and academic roles in the earth sciences.

In comparison, Industry Canada’s Innovation Strategy defines KWs “as people having completed a post-secondary degree or diploma or its equivalent”. This definition widens the scope of KWs’ educational attainment to include degrees and diplomas outside of the Bachelor’s context, implying the inclusion of college or technical and vocational education. In a recent study of the stocks and flows of highly qualified workers in England, varying levels of education of KWs were defined through the National Qualification Framework.

This framework defines “qualifications” as a series of knowledge levels based on the years of education obtained — defining Bachelor’s-level education, and college and technical diplomas as separate levels from graduate-level education. So although it sees there is some debate as to exactly what level of education one must have achieved in order to be qualified as a knowledge worker, everyone is in agreement that you do need to have a post school qualification.

So what is it about these Knowledge workers that make them so attractive? MiHR goes on to say that Knowledge workers contribute to organizations through one of three types of knowledge

  • New or created knowledge
  • Portable knowledge
  • Specialist knowledge

Those involved in the creation of knowledge work typically hold research and development positions. Their skills lead to the generation of novel products and processes for organizations, and commonly, they will stay with one organization for a long period during the development of the new knowledge. Those engaged in portable knowledge work have broad knowledge that is applicable to a wide variety of situations, across many different job categories and sectors (e.g., engineers and geologists).

Specialty knowledge work involves application of specialized knowledge on aspects of work specific to the unique context of an organization (e.g., a mine manager).

Knowledge workers obviously are not only found in the mining industry, they play a major role in all industries. For this reason many companies in all industries, spend a great deal of time, money and effort trying to attract, retain and develop these key knowledge workers. However the concern around knowledge workers in the mining industry is around the potential shortage of knowledge workers that could loom in the future.

It has been common knowledge for a while now that many of these highly skilled individuals will leave the mining industry by 2020. This will obviously hugely impact the mining industry and increase the demand for those knowledge workers still in the industry and put mining companies under more pressure to be able to attract and retain those new to the industry.

The face of mining has changed over the years with a decrease in the reliance of labour and an increase in the reliance of technology. This has impacted on the amount of semi-skilled or low skilled positions available within the mining industry. For this reason mining jobs today require a lot more skill and training then they did in years gone by, which makes knowledge workers very sought after in the industry.

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