Knowledge Work, Aging and Apprenticeships

In the UK we are getting older as a population, information overload is common, and we need to transfer knowledge.  Over the past few weeks I’ve read a few articles which discuss the shortfalls in both professional education and identify needs in workplace professional development.

Craig Roth discussed MBA courses and the use of simulations to help candidates understand the need to filter data with dashboards and KPI’s and extended the thought processes to take a view on information management:

I’m not just joking about how screwed up the average corporation is.  These difficulties exist in even the best of organizations, making attention management an essential discipline if one desires to be an effective information worker and good managerial decision maker.

I’d extend Craig’s concerns into schooling at secondary level and above.  My first point is we just don’t train our young people to filter and focus on priorities – I’m not saying its easy as I struggle with this every day.  However we aren’t even arming them with the mental skills to prioritise their schoolwork, study, research or plan effectively. 

When our young folk enter the enterprise and become knowledge workers we have excellent graduate schemes which offer training, but these may not be enough.  Dave Snowden recently blogged about the apprenticeship and the lack of a similar model for management:

Maybe its time we stopped treating management as something that can be taught and then practiced, and instead focus on creating a professional model of management education which is based on praxis. Of course that would mean HR giving up their cult like toys; competence models, assessment centers, psychometric tests and the like. It would mean KM people starting to create long term projects rather than information management with a candy coating of communities of practice. Physical presence can be augmented by virtual connectivity but it can never be fully replaced. Above all we should be authentic to humans as humans, and to the social ecology of their interaction. We are not cogs in machine, we cannot be engineered, but out evolution can be stifled by inauthentic attempts to make it so.

We can see that we have a problem over the horizon in many countries, including the UK.  We aren’t getting younger, we’re all getting older.  This will put increased pressure on organizations to transfer knowledge to fewer people.  Information overload will get worse, especially for the younger worker.  Prioritising will become more important.

The statistics from the UK Office of National Statistics show that as soon as 2018 we could see more people over 40 working than under 40, that assumes 300,000 people of pensionable age continue to work.  The column label is missing but that’s millions of people.age_graph

The beauty of demographics is they aren’t the same in all areas of the world, but the headlines for the UK are:

  • population rising
  • we are living longer
  • there will be less workers under 40 compared to those over 40
  • if people work beyond the pensionable age then everything changes (and they will, I probably will!)
  • older knowledge workers are more likely to want to work part time – that then makes knowledge transfer and priority setting for those that remain more important

One thing I’ve not dealt with well here is whether globalization will solve the problem.  Will we truly get to the point that global teams drawing on skills from areas with younger populations will fill the demographic gap in the UK ….. that’s a bit heavy for an already long post so I’ll mull over that one with you over a virtual pint.


  1. Isn’t the graph a good thing? Although is says more over 40s working than under 40s, it sees a large rise in under 20s also. So there will be more people in work by 2018. The graph will only represent the population.


    1. Firstly Dan apologies your comment was in the spam queue for some reason. Absolutely there will be more people working by 2018, I think my point is that we need to be ready for a multi-generational workplace where inclusive design will be key. What I observe personally is a focus to attract the best talent but less focus on integrating the work styles of that new talent with the work styles of the aging workforce, not enough focus on knowledge transfer etc.


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