Age of Knowledge
We are living in an economic industrial era that social theorists have labeled the “knowledge-based” society. It is a period in which the majority of society’s workforce no longer depends on sweat equity to make a living as in the agricultural age or the mindless, unskilled monotony so prevalent in the industrial age. Today’s farmer must have a deep understanding of meteorological patterns, conservation, and environmental principles as well as keep abreast of the latest technologies in order to stay competitive in what has become a capital-intensive corporate business environment. The same holds true for the modern factory worker. No longer is the modern mass-production industrial environment tolerant of unskilled, uneducated labor. These jobs now require keen analytic skills, a grasp of higher math, and an understanding of computer technology and industrial machinery, with many workers specializing in narrow fields of knowledge. But it is not just the farmer and factory worker whose jobs have been transformed into arenas of advanced knowledge qualified by formal education. Accountants, medical laboratory technicians, car mechanics, dermatologists, and computer software engineers all require some level of investment in advanced knowledge-based learning to perform their jobs.
It is not that the end product that the workforce produces has changed. The farmer still grows the food we eat, the factory worker continues to manufacture the cars we drive, and the accountant still maintains the financial health of an organization. What has changed over the decades are the tools used to perform these jobs and the methods used to achieve the end result. The accountant’s sharpened pencil and accounting log have been replaced with a computer and sophisticated financial software, the hand assembly of the auto worker is now assisted by “smart” robotic assembly machines, and the farmer is now outfitted with GPS-guided equipment and irrigation systems controlled via a smartphone. What were once manually intensive jobs requiring a general set of skills now demand a blend of manual dexterity combined with multiple specialized skillsets and the knowledge to apply them. The result is a more streamlined, productive workforce that is able to work smarter and increase output at an unmatched level of accuracy and consistency. The end goal, however, is not merely to produce more, although that is a natural outcome of mechanization. It is to apply greater precision for a better outcome. What would the neurosurgeon be without sophisticated CT scans guiding skilled hands during a delicate operation or the air traffic controller without radar? Sophisticated tools do not negate or replace the value of the workforce but rather complement a worker’s increasingly higher level of specialized knowledge.
The challenge for our industry will be to create and sustain a workforce that possesses the specialized knowledge needed to master the unending parade of technological tools and increasingly complex restorative treatment modalities.