How much expertise per person?

A column in the August 2009 issue of Control Global magazine discusses the loss of what the authors estimate as 25% of the nation's industrial-process expertise. It's clearly a rough estimate -- after all, nobody really knows how much expertise is attributable to each individual in an organization. But it's not hard to imagine that the 25% figure is plausible. The stock-market decline of the last year revealed that many Baby Boomers have too little in savings to retire comfortably, and may have to continue working beyond the standard retirement age of 65. But it can't be overlooked that somewhere between 15% and 20% of the working population is over the age of 55. As that working population retires, whether voluntarily or due to health and other factors, they are going to take their knowledge out of the institutions where they work -- unless their organizations make a deliberate effort to capture that knowledge.

Among the "unappreciated skills" cited by the authors that could be used to help enhance an institution's ability to retain that knowledge are two simple but likely under-utilized habits:

  • Managers need to give their employees a sense of value and appreciation. People who feel under-appreciated are more likely to take exit opportunities like retirement or other job offers than they would if they were deliberately praised for their contributions.
  • People who ask obscure questions and cite potential difficulties in advance ought to be encouraged to do so, rather than discouraged from making life difficult for the rest of the team. The ability to make connections between parts of a system that might otherwise go unnoticed is a characteristic of an expert, and that ability should be openly encouraged. Not only does it take advantage of that expertise when it's available; it also builds a culture of encouraging younger workers to refine themselves and their skills so that they can become experts as well.
Knowledge transfer isn't a simple process; witness the day-to-day struggle of any good teacher in America. But especially as the Baby Boom generation reaches retirement age and largely departs from the American workforce, the need to transfer their knowledge to the people left behind is as urgent as the need to provide the youngest workers with the basic skills to enter the labor force.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Brian Gongol published on August 17, 2009 3:53 PM.

The role for yearbooks was the previous entry in this blog.

Eyewitness memory is never enough is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 4.261