By Frantz Belot, PhD

Retirees are stepping away from their jobs– But when they leave, what happens to the expertise they’ve garnered? Is that knowledge of their craft lost?

Loss of Knowledge– Historically

When we think of knowledge lost to time, great tragedies spring to mind. The Library of Alexandria burning in flames. Mayan codices and advancements were burned by Spaniards. The Sack of Bagdad and the libraries were reduced to dust as a result. Historic losses like these have been seared into the memories of all people that came after them, each held by history as poignant warnings to preserve knowledge however we can.

In fact, the worry of lost knowledge has led to fantastical legends about ways knowledge can be preserved – including one about Yale’s Beinecke Library, where a plethora of rare and ancient books reside. The myth alleges that the library’s modern-day fire-prevention system sucks the oxygen from rooms as soon as flames are detected, saving all the manuscripts but killing all the people inside its walls.

Thankfully this is not true. Instead, a combination of Halon and Inergen gasses lowers the percentage of oxygen around book stacks, but not enough to kill anyone. Still, this illustrates how seriously we take the loss of knowledge.

What is Knowledge Transfer?

Knowledge Transfer is a practical method for transitioning knowledge from one part of your business to another, passing the torch to the next generation. It is both a theory and a practice that secures your business from losing out on all the expertise the past generations have built up. Put simply- the workplace will suffer if the previous generation’s mastery of skills is not captured and passed on through knowledge transfer.

Effective knowledge transfer includes dealing with explicit knowledge, which is easy to document and communicate, and tacit knowledge, which provides know-how and problem-solving skills that are harder to articulate. A well-rounded knowledge transfer plan involves various steps in the knowledge transfer process, such as onboarding new team members and sharing new knowledge to ensure a successful knowledge transfer. Remember, knowledge transfer, as part of knowledge management, ensures that knowledge sharing occurs across generations.

Urgent Need For Knowledge Preservation and Transfer

Tragedy isn’t the only way civilizations begin to lose their acquired knowledge over time. One of the most prevalent ways is much more benign and simpler; when the old masters of a craft retire, if they haven’t passed on their wisdom, it retires with them.

Knowledge transfer is a significant issue affecting businesses in the United States now with the departure of the baby boomer generation from the workforce. Baby boomers made up 34% of the workforce in 2018, and each will have reached retirement age by 2030. This means that there will be fewer experienced employees in the workplace to fill the roles left by these experts.

As baby boomers retire, they will take with them years of organizational knowledge accumulated from the decades of experience spent working in their respective fields.

This loss of institutional knowledge can be particularly challenging for organizations, which will struggle to maintain productivity and efficiency without them and see a widening of a skills gap emerging.

As a result, there will be a shortage of workers with the necessary skills and experience to take their place. This is especially true in industries that require highly specialized skills or knowledge. For example, the manufacturing industry is facing a shortage of skilled workers, which is expected to worsen as baby boomers retire. According to a report by Deloitte, the skills gap in the manufacturing industry alone could result in 2.4 million unfilled positions by 2028.

It should be noted that it is not that we don’t have sufficient people to fulfill these highly skilled positions, but we don’t have enough qualified employees. It behooves us to fix that problem before the point of no return.

A Dwindling Workforce of Experts

With the promise of sunny weather and endless free time to spend with the grandkids, the number of baby boomers retiring is exponentially increasing, and you need to be prepared for when they leave your staff.

If expertise has yet to be communicated to other staff members when a baby boomer retires, the company suffers significant losses and sometimes massive lapses. The retiree’s expert knowledge can no longer be reconstructed.

To ensure this doesn’t happen, many businesses have the retiree train new staff members before departing the company. This way, they can take new employees through training that replicates their specific knowledge, thus making sure that knowledge isn’t lost with their departure.

However, in-person training isn’t always practical, as some employees may be retiring for health issues or are simply burned out. Many who reach retirement age don’t feel as sharp as they used to and may feel ill-equipped to train their replacement properly. Where does that leave the employer, with an expert departing and their replacement unable to be trained as effectively?

Many companies are unaware of the information and operating procedures that aren’t documented. Think of a senior employee who excels at their job. Everyone in the office knows and trusts him to do his job superbly. After all, he’s always done exactly that! While that trust is a good thing, it creates a particular issue where nobody will take the time to ask this employee precisely what he does and why he can do it so well; they trust his abilities and move on. What happens when this man’s expertise isn’t shared or written down when he leaves the business? Nobody will be able to replicate his work. Plus, what he may have done ten years ago– and what he learned when he was hired back then– has likely morphed and changed with the times. But unfortunately, the likelihood that those specific procedures are well-documented is slim to none.

Simply put, we don’t know what we don’t know. This is why knowledge transfer is so crucial. In its implementation, we assure hard-working employees’ knowledge isn’t lost to time.

Dangers of Losing An Asset

Some of the biggest challenges businesses face instead of the upcoming drop in staff are figuring out how to overcome skills gaps, finding adequate replacements, and changing company culture.

Skill Gaps come when existing employees don’t feel they can pick up the slack from the older experts who have departed from the company. While they may have all worked seamlessly as a well-oiled machine before, now, there’s a cog or two missing. The current employees may feel pressured to perform duties they once weren’t required to– and in doing so, still uphold the company standard. If they haven’t been properly equipped, this can lead to staff aggravation and feelings as though their management didn’t prepare them for this change in workload.

Finding replacements has become increasingly challenging. With college tuition skyrocketing, there are fewer members of the workforce with the degrees and knowledge that the Baby Boomers could attain. While there is an endless supply of young people wanting to work in these fields, finding suitable candidates is challenging. While no fault of their own, many lack experience and may need more training than a freshly-graduated Baby Boomer from years ago.

Adjusting to culture shifts is another easily overlooked component of the transfer of workers. Baby Boomers have a different outlook on the world of business as a whole than Gen Z and even Gen X and Millennials. With this cultural divide and other societal shifts, it is essential for companies to adjust and adapt to the new mindset that younger employees bring. Embracing and understanding these differences is crucial to maintain a healthy work environment and fostering a sense of belonging and collaboration.

Strategies for Effective Knowledge Transfer

Companies need to implement a knowledge transfer strategy that encompasses different approaches and tools to ensure that the knowledge of retiring employees doesn’t disappear with their departure. Here are some strategies that can help facilitate effective knowledge transfer:

  • Establish a knowledge management system: A centralized knowledge base or library where employees can store and access relevant information can significantly help retain organizational knowledge. This centralized library may include videos that document processes, case studies, and other critical information. Like a CRM system or other centralized systems, such a library contains organizational truth and metrics.
  • Involve subject matter experts: Engage experienced employees in creating short microlearning training videos ensure that their expertise is incorporated into the learning process. This helps experienced employees transfer tacit knowledge without unnecessary work shadowing and improves the efficiency of one-on-one coaching and mentoring.
  • Encourage collaboration and sharing: Promote a culture of knowledge sharing within your organization. You can do this through consistent, daily microlearning, team meetings and webinars and other communication that provide employees with continuous learning opportunities to acquire new skills and knowledge.
  • Set metrics and incentives: Establish measurable goals for knowledge transfer and incentivize employees to share their knowledge and expertise with others.
  • Standardize templates: Create templates for different types of videos that document standardized processes for recurring tasks to ensure consistency and capture best practices so that technology transfer is managed effectively.
  • Leverage technology: Employ a microlearning platform to facilitate knowledge sharing and communication among team members so your intellectual property is appropriately safeguarded and doesn’t end up on social media channels like YouTube and TikTok.
  • Plan for succession: Develop a succession plan that identifies critical positions and potential internal candidates for those roles, ensuring a smooth transition when experienced employees retire or leave the organization.

A Lifeline for Businesses Losing their Retiring Workers

The retirement of baby boomers from the workforce presents a significant challenge to businesses regarding knowledge transfer and maintaining productivity levels. Implementing effective knowledge transfer strategies can help minimize the impact of this demographic shift and ensure that valuable expertise and skills are not lost when experienced employees depart.

Thankfully, information can be quickly documented and preserved by using video-based microlearning. Using a combination of a powerful delivery platform and a proven methodology, institutional knowledge and skills can be captured, preserved, and transferred to future generations of workers.

Now, I hear many concerns that this can be costly in terms of time and money. But it doesn’t have to be.

Documenting workers’ skills to create an extensive video library of short clips and tutorials is simple and easy. Most workers don’t need Hollywood-style videos. Instead, they need something quick that helps them properly perform a task.

We recommend creating 1-2 minute videos – they can even be selfie-style – on any topic, task, skill, or knowledge from subject matter experts. This process is easy and should only take a few minutes for each skill.

If knowledge transfer preparation is something you value for your business, we urge you to take advantage of the various forms of training automation available.

If you want to learn more and take active steps to keep your team up to date—and capture, preserve, and transfer knowledge to the next generation of amazing workers, please schedule an appointment to speak with a Tyfoom training consultant