Within the next seven years, almost a quarter of the population of the United States will be 60 or older. For you, that means quite a few retirements coming down the road. This means you as an employer need to start considering how to gather and keep the wealth of knowledge from this generation, much of which comes from experience and hasn’t been written down for your younger employees. Take note that within the manufacturing sector, this rings especially true. This “tribal knowledge”, known but not recorded, makes up decades of lived work experience, and you need to find a way to pass it down effectively or risk losing it.
Recognize the value of tribal knowledge.
Think about any episode of Undercover Boss. So often the leader, removed from the work floor, misses vital information that the employees have. Capturing this knowledge will allow you to drive innovation, looking at the old to see what could be updated. It allows you to maintain the competitive advantage when you have proprietary data within your space. And, in simplest terms, it teaches the younger, newer employees and allows them to fit the shoes of those who have passed the torch.
Warning: The old guard may resist.
As much as you want to learn from older employees, they may not feel so willing. They may not feel ready for torch-passing, feeling if they divulge their know-how, they’re more easily replaced. And they may well have found some shortcuts that aren’t exactly in the procedural manual. Admitting they’ve found a more efficient but not entirely sanctioned method might mean they have to give it up. Finally, they may not want to give up their role of “the fixer” – they enjoy the pride that comes with having others rely on them.
Figure out who to speak to.
Once you identify the “gatekeepers”, you’ll have a starting point. Obviously begin with the most experienced veterans, those closest to retirement. They’ll likely share because they don’t have to worry about job security. If you do get resistance, continue to play to their egos by pointing out nobody can do what they do; hence the need to pass it along. Assure them you’re not doing this to push them out the door. When you do find those who cut corners, make it a positive: See where their method works better than what’s established.
Put it all together.
Some of this tribal knowledge is less than helpful. Analyze what’s worth recording first. Once you’ve done that, digitize it all for future employees, taking care to maintain it all so you don’t have to go through the process again with the next wave of retirements. When you have it all organized, share it with the other employees in order to get them engaged and foster collaboration. This will also extend that tribal knowledge and connect the generations.
Every employee has something to offer. Make sure to get that wealth of experiential knowledge from your older employees because once they’re gone, it goes with them. For help finding your next great employee, work with PrideStaff.