Knowledge workers now account for one-quarter of workforce

Number of knowledge workers growing steadily for three decades
By Uyen Vu
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/10/2003

C

ontrary to popular perception, the rise of knowledge work isn’t a phenomenon of the 1990s.

In fact, according to a Statistics Canada analysis, not only has knowledge work been growing steadily in the past three decades, it grew the fastest in the 1980s, by four per cent. Knowledge work grew by 3.2 percentage points in the 1990s.

The Statistics Canada paper examined the growth of knowledge work over three decades, from 1971 to 2001, when it made up 24.7 per cent of the labour force. In 1971, knowledge work accounted for 13.8 per cent.

The paper defines knowledge work as comprising three occupational groups:

•professional occupations, characterized by high relative wages and a high proportion of people who have completed university-level education;

•management occupations, characterized by high relative wages but with a lower proportion of people who have completed university-level education; and

•technical occupations, characterized by lower relative wage rates and a high proportion of people with post-secondary education or above.

The growth of knowledge work was fastest in business services, where the share of employment defined as knowledge work grew by 25 percentage points over the three decades. Following suit is finance and insurance (22.2. per cent), wholesale trade (by 16.7 per cent), and mining, quarrying, oil and gas (12.1 per cent).

Knowledge work in information and communications technology grew by 10 per cent between 1971 and 1996, an indication that while the industry was part of the knowledge revolution, it certain wasn’t leading the growth.

While knowledge work has become a larger share of the labour force since the 1970s, the wage advantage knowledge workers have over others has stayed the same. In 2001 knowledge workers earned on average about 1.5 times the wage other workers earned, the same ratio as in 1981.

Share of employment (in percentage)
1971198119912001
All knowledge-based occupations13.817.521.524.7
Management1.63.65.46.1
Professional8.79.911.314.3
Technical3.54.04.74.4
All other occupations86.282.578.575.3
All occupations100100100100

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