What is it about?

There is a cultural divide in how we view technology and people at work. In this discussion we look at the type of work typically associated with skilled, blue-collar occupations traditionally found in manufacturing. For example, these are not machine operators but machinists, not production line assemblers but electricians; they come from schools where education and training tends to be at least at the associates degree level at community colleges, some requiring higher math and computer programming so they can cut and form materials, usually metal alloys, in order to make a finished product—usually metal component parts or tools. Today's blue collar worker understands how to write specific software based on the specifications given to them to produce tangible … “things” that are likely to be assembled as larger machines and equipment. Perhaps by crossing this knowledge abyss we would be better off understanding how processes work, and who actually makes the “things” we crave in the postmodern, postindustrial global ecology.

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Why is it important?

Lacking what I call, “blue collar scholarship,” we could learn something about how others work so we may appreciate our privileged lifestyles. Mass consumerism is a double edged sword. We consume cheap, somewhat-reliable products when we want them - and we want them now. Although the lack of sustainability for such production and consumption is valid, let’s examine the production aspect here. Distinction is made here between blue-collar occupations and laborers. Blue-collar workers are often misidentified as “unskilled” workers, and confused with unskilled laborers or semiskilled workers. Blue-collar professionals tend to be highly trained and educated in their chosen tradecrafts. and we need to train & hire more of these valued professionals if we are to continue to live comfortable.

Perspectives

Individual blue collar worker’s experiences are meaningful, complex, and are major contributors to industrial knowledge management. On the last point, they may be overlooked because these individuals are on the front lines of industrial sector positions, and do not have the time to publish their experiences beyond their own organizations. Perhaps they are the true applied scholar/practitioners. The conscientious manager may genuinely seek to promote positive work practices, but it is the skilled and educated blue collar worker who competently applies new technology as their tools to the job and quickly institutionalized valid processes in real time. If they had the luxury of time, they would indeed become known in the knowledge management literature as contributors to and among Communities of Practice. But instead they go to work and "make things." We, as benefactors of their labor, as a society ought to delve deeper to hear… really listen to their stories, beginning with that person on the line, as we continue learning from them to include an ever-broader scope—their (industrial) culture and communicate messages. This is something we all ought to be involved in as a collective, interconnected network of Communities of Interest participating in a positive environment of reflexivity and candor. And now let's get back to work!

Thomas Kleiner
Webster University

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This page is a summary of: The Ontology of Globalization and Sensemaking of Industrial Work in the Age of Digital Electronics, Perspectives on Global Development and Technology, March 2020, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/15691497-12341542.
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