Capturing the Knowledge of an Aging Workforce
By Paul Dufresne, Trico Corp
What is the aging workforce? A popular topic often referenced in discussion and rhetoric, the aging workforce points to the baby boom generation. Baby boomers, generally defined as those individuals born between 1946 and 1964, will typically become eligible for retirement and begin to retire in high numbers over the next few years. Recent studies conducted throughout industry have revealed that more than 30-40% of maintenance trades people will be retiring over the next 5 years; in some industries that rate is as high as 50%.
During their years on the job trades people collect a wealth of knowledge that is rarely documented or transferred to others. Well-seasoned maintenance veterans are intimate with their equipment and can quickly make repairs to avoid downtime. The knowledge they often posses is asset criticality, inspection knowledge and general know-how pertaining to the maintenance of these assets. This critical information is often memorized or squirreled away in some secret notebook that these tradesmen use daily. All of this knowledge is lost, as employees retire, in companies that are unable to systematically collect the information as the employee conducts his/her job. As the eligibility of workers who can retire rises over the next five to ten years the opportunity to capture the knowledge of the aging workforce multiplies exponentially. At the same time fewer people are entering the trades. Apprenticeship programs are at their lowest levels and enrollment at educational institutions has dropped by 60% over the past 10 years.
Unfortunately, many organizations do not realize their loss until the impact is felt, often resulting in a loss of efficiency or setbacks for important strategic goals. Any increase in turnover, caused by retirement or other reasons, puts more institutional knowledge at risk and increases the need for an effective knowledge management strategy.
Therefore, companies must take action and recognize this impending dilemma. They must take a long hard look at the current workforce and identify where the shortages are going to be and develop a path forward. The end result is that companies may find themselves with fewer employees on hand to run plants just as they are seeking ways to extend their equipment life. Companies must take a proactive approach and develop an Effective Knowledge Management Plan to ensure they are prepared for the upcoming changes that they will most likely face. The following are the Four Key Components for an Effective Knowledge Management Plan.
Key Components for an Effective Knowledge Management Plan:
Documentation of standards and procedures
Fig. 1 Example of a detailed lubrication inspection.
Fig. 2 Example of the Tacit and Explicit knowledge captured in an SOP.
Centralized Archives or Storehouse of Records
Job Shadow or Mentoring
Organizations in industry must take a proactive and direct approach to dealing with the issues associated with their aging workforce. They must take a long hard look at who is retiring and what knowledge is going to leave when they go. Companies must have appropriate countermeasures in place to capture the tacit and explicit knowledge that is vital for the continued success of their organization. Waiting until there is a crisis to try and figure out what happened or who knows what to do is too late. By capturing the vital knowledge of the aging workforce before they retire, organizations will be in the position to successfully handle the transitional changes from older personnel leaving to new personnel joining the organization. While each of these identified strategies and approaches are valid and valuable to knowledge management efforts, organizations must exert equal emphasis on capturing and managing all types of organizational knowledge.
Volume 5 Issue 10
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