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the Centre for Learning, Social Economy and Work at OISE, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto

Changing Workplaces in a Knowledge Economy (CWKE)

Canadian workplaces are widely assumed to have changed greatly in the past three decades in reponse to rapidly diffusing information technologies and globalizing markets. But there are four important questions that beg to be answered with direct evidence:
  1. To what extent has the occupational structure of employment changed?
  2. How well are the skills of the general labour force being used in this occupational structure?
  3. How well are the skills of professionals being used as key contributors to the development of a knowledge economy?
  4. As a leading case, how well are the skills of engineers being used?
The objective of the CWKE project research is to provide clear answers to these four questions and aid the development of more effective employment and training policies.
To do this we have conducted a national general labour force survey (N=3,000) of working conditions and skill use. Building directly on these survey findings, we have also conducted comprehensive case studies of Ontario engineers and nurses involving oral history, provincial survey and in depth interview methods. Each are widely regarded as highly strategic to the development of a knowledge economy. They are ideal for detailed study of the occupational class make-up and skill use of professionals because they are employed in diverse organizational settings and recent research is highly divided on how effectively their skills are now being utilized.

Data archived in CanadaWorkLearningSurveys1998-2016

The CWKE data archive contains codebooks, questionnaires and survey data for analyses conducted in “Changing Workplaces in a Knowledge Economy: Occupational Class Structure, Skill Use and the Place of Professions in Canada”. The CWKE project was funded by SSHRC Insight Research Grant 435-2015-0732.

Much of the relevant data is available to all interested readers at:


The basic data information provided in this archive include several national labour force surveys:






as well as two 2017 case study surveys:



With regard to all the national surveys, the data sources files include a comparative template for common variables in the 1982, 1998, 2004, 2010 and 2016 national surveys, a more detailed integrated codebook for the 1998-2010 surveys and codebooks for specific surveys. In addition, the original questionnaires and several versions of the basic data in different formats (Excel; CSV; SPSS; Tab Delimited) are provided in the archive. Further information on the 1982 CCS survey is also available (https://doi.org/10.5683/SP2/Q2FJ7I)

Detailed information on the CWKE project research design and selected papers will continue to be available at the project website at the Centre for Learning, Social Economy & Work (CLSEW): https://www.oise.utoronto.ca/clsew/Research/Changing_Workplaces_in_a_Knowledge_Economy_%28CWKE%29.html.

The fullest overview of the project may be found in the main book publication:

Livingstone, D.W., Adams, T. & Sawchuk, P. (2021). Professional power and skill use in the ‘Knowledge Economy’: A class analysis. Leiden: Brill.

This is the first systematic analysis of the class structure of professionals. Their growing numbers, including mainly non-managerial professional employees as well as self-employed professionals, professional employers and professional managers, have been conflated in most prior studies. In this book, evidence comes from a unique series of large-scale surveys since the 1980s as well as recent comparative case studies of engineers and nurses. A primary focus is on issues of job control and skill utilization among these knowledge workers widely regarded as pivotal to the sustainability of knowledge economies. Professional employees in particular are found to face declining job control, diminishing use of their skills and increasing barriers to continuing learning. There are many original benchmarks here to serve as guides for further studies on professional classes, job design and training strategies in advanced capitalist economies. 

Other easily accessible published papers include:

Adams, Tracey L. and Peter Sawchuk. (2020). Professional-Organizational Contradictions and Hybridization of Knowledge: Insights from the Study of Engineering and Nursing in Canada. Vocations and Learning. (Published online July 24, 2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12186-020-09253-1  

Livingstone, D.W. and Brendan Watts (2019). The changing class structure and pivotal role of professional employees in an advanced capitalist ‘knowledge economy’: Canada, 1982–2016, Studies in Political Economy, 99:1 (2018): 79-96. (with Brendan Watts). https://doi.org/10.1080/07078552.2018.1440983

Those interested in using the national survey data series should be able to access the data directly from the dataverse archive. For further assistance, please contact:

David Livingstone – dwlivingstone@gmail.com

Those interested in using the engineering or nursing case study survey data can consult the questionnaires and codebooks in this archive. Access to these specific data sets can be provided with permission of the lead investigators:

Engineering survey: Tracey Adams – tladams@uwo.ca

Nursing survey: Peter Sawchuk – peter.sawchuk@utoronto.ca

The new national survey coupled with trend analyses using the few comparable prior national surveys and more in-depth studies of professionals, and engineers in particular, will permit unique insights into the extent of change in the general occupational class structure, the extent of general skill use/under-utilization, and the recognition of specialized skills. This project will provide essential benchmarks for future research and policy. In this period widely claimed to be transformative of relations between work demands and training requirements, this evidence will be of vital aid for policy-making aimed at improving job design, occupational training, and optimal use of the general and specialized skills of the Canadian labour force.

This project is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


To learn more about this project:



paper planes

Contact Us

If you're interested in learning more about the project, please email D.W. Livingstone at dwlivingstone@gmail.com.

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