The baby boomer generation is slowly leaving the workforce, and taking 40 years of precious field knowledge along with it. It’s unfortunate that skills transfer to new generations is rarely a priority. Don’t worry, there’s still time to get started!
Read also: Is your company Millennial-ready?
In the U.S., 10,000 baby boomers retire every single day. That’s a huge number to wrap your head around! Departures are going to continue over the next two years and we need an action plan. We need to make sure that we don’t lose the precious informal know-how that’s in the hands of the older generation.
The pillars of knowledge
When we talk about digital transformation, we often refer to skills obsolescence. But we also need to remember that some of the skills we need in order to remain relevant in our jobs are based on fundamental pillars of knowledge. These are transferred from peer to peer and are the lifeline of a company!
Organizational knowledge is “T-shaped”: the vertical line represents the fundamental pillars of knowledge and the horizontal line represents the skills that we already know that will become redundant in the next five years.
Attention: Productivity threat!
For a new hire, it’s extremely important to have access to basic company know-how. By neglecting this pillar, a company risks losing in productivity. Indeed, if we can’t rely on the experience of senior employees who solved problems and improved processes throughout their careers, we start from scratch all over again and repeat past errors.
It’s when the know-how is still physically present that you can effectively tap into it. Did you know that a retired engineer was called in because a part of the methodology to build a satellite had been lost? It can sound anecdotal but when a baby-boomer disappears, so does their knowledge library.
A generation gap?
We know that “the elders” need to share certain technical skills and established procedures with the younger generation. We also know that the two generations – baby boomers and Millennials – don’t follow the same communication codes. Baby boomers are more likely to choose in-person, face-to-face transmission techniques, while Millennials tend to Google their way through life.
Ultimately, a clash of generations at the workplace essentially boils down to “ways of communicating” rather than “ways of being”. If we’ve been used to sharing information in a certain way for several years, it can seem difficult to replace that with a video tutorial. On the other hand, the mere idea of studying a binder full of procedural information can get a 25-year-old running in the opposite direction.
Bridging the gap
Companies need to bridge the gap between generations and find a sharing model that older employees are comfortable with, and that Generation Z understands. It’s up to HR and management to tackle this problem head on and facilitate knowledge transfer.
We know that baby boomers are attached to mentorship – taking a young’un under their wing and showing them how things are done on a day-to-day basis. We can’t replicate this model for every single new hire (it’s too time consuming and labor-intensive) but a company can certainly draw inspiration from it to put in place a more efficient system.
SPECIAL SERIE ON ‘LEARNING ORGANIZATIONS’
Things go fast. The world is changing. Digitalization has turned organizations’ rules, and forced them to rethink their ways of doing in order to stay competitive.
Episode 1: Dear multisite organisations have you successfully standardize your best practices ?
Episode 2: To ensure a successful digital transformation, engage your employees
Episode 3: Is your company millennial-ready?
Episode 4: Capture baby boomers’ expertise before it’s too late