Saturday, May 07, 2011

Knowledge Management Education & the Job Market for KM Professionals

Kent State University and George Washington University have been collaborating around an initiative to strengthen KM education (mostly at the Masters and Ph.D. level) with what I understood to be a long term goal of strengthening the KM profession as a whole by turning KM into a "discipline" with a standardized set of core qualifications, etc... essentially trying to balance or counter the emergence of competing commercial outfits delivering KM certifications and in the process making a few claims about the strength of their training.

I don't have sufficient first hand knowledge of the entrails of all this to pass judgement on any of it. From a personal perspective, as a knowledge management professional, I've had to ask myself whether I needed to get a KM certificate of some kind and after looking into it, I've decided that it did not make sense. For one thing, I've been disappointed with classroom learning (even in workshop format) settings and I seem to do better with ongoing social learning opportunities using a wide variety of sources and methods online. Another aspect of this is that I know enough about knowledge management to be skeptical about the ability of any training out there to really help me with ongoing KM challenges I face in the workplace and to give me something I can't find on my own with a little of diligence on the web. I could see myself taking one "class" a year on a specific topic, but the certificate approach isn't appealing to me.

The initiative driven by Kent State University (KM Education Forum Community Wiki) includes a series of webinars (completed) and a two-day onsite event at George Washington University (completed this past week, May 5-6). I listened in on some of the webinars and attended the onsite event in D.C. The back and forth between the academics and practitioners was interesting. Not surprisingly, there's a significant gap between the concerns of the academics ("we need to create a true discipline with a rigorous curriculum") and the concerns of the practitioners ("can you please send us people who know what they're talking about and can DO knowledge management"). Part of the problem is that there isn't a standard explanation of what "doing knowledge management" really is because 1) KM is highly contextual; and 2) KM draws from a wide range of other disciplines.

In parenthesis, I'm not convinced KM is a discipline or needs to be a discipline from an academic perspective. I see it as a cross-disciplinary field. I'm not sure the marketplace is asking for KM professionals coming out of schools with a KM degree. I think the marketplace would be satisfied with KM professionals who have had cross-disciplinary training, whether their degree comes from the school of computer science, human resources, business, library sciences, etc..

At times it seems as if there are a few individuals ("strong personalities" I should say) who are positioning themselves to be able to say "I created KM as a discipline." A small dose of humility might do some good to the field of KM as a whole (see a related short post by Nick Milton: "It's Wrong to be Right").  Within organizations, without a dose of humility and the ability to collaborate with other departments, KM can't go very far. The same probably applies to KM in academia. I find the attempt to establish KM as an independent discipline to go against the nature of KM. KM is not going to get more recognition in organizations when it becomes an academic discipline.  KM will get the recognition it deserves where and when it is able to demonstrate value to the bottom line and/or organizational goals of the organization.

That being said, I do find a great deal of value in some of the work being done in the context of the initiative to define roles and responsibilities as well as competencies required for KM professionals. Again, as a KM professional (in a contractor position), I have to think in terms of career path. I consider myself a KM generalist. Where do I go from here? What competencies do I need to acquire to get to the higher levels of the KM career hierarchy? What KM specialist competencies would have the most value if I wanted to become a specialist? What would I really be good at and what would be too much of a stretch? What existing skills and competencies should I build upon? If I'm currently somewhere between KM specialist and KM team leader (leader without a team, but below CKO), what are my options both within my existing organizational setting and within other organizations.

Which brings me to the next set of issues: the marketplace. In trying to identify specific competencies and skills that I had/didn't have that were in demand in the marketplace, I've collected job advertisements for the past few months. I've focused on positions that had the words "knowledge management" in them, but also paid attention to jobs with titles and descriptions involving "organizational learning" and "chief learning officer." A few observations:
  1. A significant proportion of the jobs labelled as "Knowledge Management" are 99% IT. Some of them are webmasters jobs under a KM label. I suppose that may happen when web content management falls under the responsibility of a KM office.
  2. Some organizations with a significant number of KM jobs have well defined KM job descriptions and qualification requirements with a good degree of consistency across the board. You can tell from the job descriptions that they have a strong KM program (the World Bank comes to mind).
  3. Federal Government KM jobs are often described in Federalese and alphabet soup. Even when they're open to the general public, you'd need a translator and insider to explain the terminology and have a chance in competing with people already on the inside. If you don't already know the systems the agency has in place, I don't know how you can expect to get through the first level of screening because you can't target your responses properly if you don't understand what their language.
  4. A lot of KM jobs are very specific about the systems and tools you need to know to apply. They don't ask for specialists in communities of practice, they ask for Sharepoint or system XYZ specialists. As an applicant, that tells you something about where the organization is in terms of KM maturity. They've already made a lot of decisions in terms of approaches and systems.  As a KM generalist, I know how to use a dozen different systems but would I call myself a Sharepoint specialist? Probably not.  Give me a couple of months and I can probably become a Sharepoint specialist.  I don't think being a specialist in a specific tool or system would be a smart career move.
This is a personal blog and these are personal opinions.  Obviously, this isn't meant as a summary of the KM Education Forum webinars and onsite event.  See links below for the official information.

Related Links (not advertizing or recommending any particular academic or commercial training)

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