#SXSW: Using Knowledge Sharing to Recruit & Retain the Future Workforce

It’s been called the “silver tsunami,” the number of Baby Boomers retiring has reached 10,000 per day — the population of a small city leaving the workforce every day. Combine the growth in Boomers retiring with the influx of millennials entering the workforce and you get a skills gap that will force companies to consider alternatives for training and development.

It will take a creative and multi-tiered approach in partnership with communities, government, and educators for companies to find the skilled workforce they need. The exit of a knowledgeable workforce will be felt the most in industries like utilities, oil and gas, where learning and development has a sharp curve.

How the Skills Gap Is Impacting Your Workforce

The skills gap alarm bells are also ringing loudly in the halls of government. President Trump was told by visiting manufacturers in February 2017 that they have the jobs, but can’t find people with the skills to fill them. The federal response has been $1.4 billion in “Investing in Innovation” grants to school districts and training providers to gear up STEM education, improve career pathways, and strengthen the pipeline of students to jobs. This year, the name has been changed to the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) grant competition, with $180 million budgeted for innovative programs. We’ve discussed this topic in the The Growth of Gig Economy podcast, but it applies to private companies as well.

The mass exodus of Boomers isn’t a new trend. It began in 2011, when the first of the Boomers turned 65 and began to retire. Back then, the momentum was slowed by lingering concerns over the 2008 economic slowdown. But now, retirements are accelerating.

Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute issued their third report on the issues three years ago — the latest titled “The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing: 2015 and Beyond.” They report the gap between available skilled workers and available jobs is widening — due to economic expansion and retiring baby-boomers. Bottom line, 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled by 2025, but a lack of skilled workers means two million of them will go unfilled without some radical changes.

The loss of business intelligence and corporate knowledge these baby boomers possessed—especially in R&D-focused companies—could amount to billions of dollars of lost intellectual capital. To mitigate this potential massive loss, leaders must act fast.

How to Organize, Plan and Execute Your Knowledge Sharing Efforts

The organizational effort of attempting to keep the job knowledge of employees consistent despite turnover is called knowledge sharing. Sometimes referred to as knowledge continuity management, knowledge sharing focuses on passing critical knowledge from exiting employees to their replacements.  Knowledge sharing is an organization-wide effort to build long-term knowledge continuity across the board.

Knowledge sharing begins with an organization’s culture and values—but for today’s businesses, it also involves intergenerational relations, as well as adapting company culture to accommodate the needs of Millennials. <Possibly make this into a quote from Stacy here>

Jeanne Meister, author of The 2020 Workplace, says, “attracting and keeping talented Millennials goes beyond companies having innovative technology. Flexible work schedules, including the option to telecommute or work from home are also a priority, as well as, collaborative team work environments and a community of their own peers. Companies that are adopting their recruitment, development and retention of talent to take into account the needs of Millennials will be the winners over the next decade.”

Knowledge Sharing in the Workplace

Because of the efficiency of technology, millennials are a generation that is used to instant gratification and may be reluctant to accept a workforce with poor communication. The trouble with this notion is that Baby Boomers have a plethora of knowledge to transfer down but all too often feel intimidated by technology as a form of communication and as a mechanism of knowledge transfer.

Our panelists for this particular panel session included Nada Lulic from Zenoss, Joel Bennet from Berber Camp, Jessica Melo from Paycom and our moderator, Alex Brown from Fiserv.

Here are a few things we discussed during HRetreat Conference during SXSW that you and your company can do to encourage knowledge sharing in the workplace:

Create Learning Opportunities

Create learning opportunities throughout your department or organization. This type of learning does not occur through professional development opportunities (i.e., classroom training), but rather, through knowledge sharing. Approximately 70% of learning happens on the job, and an additional 20% occurs with and through others. Try asking specific employees to lead informal “lunch and learns,” start a mentoring program, ask willing Millennial employees to videotape interviews with company experts and post them on your Intranet.

Facilitate Intergenerational Interaction

Facilitate intergenerational interaction. Create forums and general opportunities for senior experts and leaders to interact with newer and/or younger employees. Opportunities for cross-generational learning could range from mentoring to “Ask the Expert” roundtables, or project reviews.

Take Learning Online

Take learning online. This is especially important if your employee base is remote or contract.  Offer online venues for sharing information. These include podcasts and YouTube channels; or an internal knowledge base focused by area of expertise; websites or knowledge profiles; or simply a list of company experts who can be contacted for answers, information, and troubleshooting.

“A great training experience whether online or in person is critical for your long term growth strategy.” – Nada Lulic

Invite All Employees to Participate

Finally, when you introduce knowledge sharing to employees, begin by inviting them to participate and acknowledge each individual and his or her history and skills. Include them in the process, or they may feel used. Many might also fear that you are asking for their knowledge because they are going to lose their jobs. Take extra time to stress their value, their legacy, and the fact that employees of all ages will act as givers and receivers of knowledge.

And lastly, one of my favorite panelist conversations was on the subject of executive buy in the investment of technology to help elevate your learning and knowledge sharing efforts. The panelists and the attendees had some great interaction and discussion on this subject. My favorite quote came from Jessica Melo, one of our session panelists.

“Training technology costs money. How do you get executive buy-in to make the investment? Buy-in must align with business objectives. To sell it – you’ve got to be a part of the conversation.” – Jessica Melo

Jessica from Workology and our other HRetreat panelists agreed that the time is now to move forward. We have little time to waste. You need to invest in engaging in knowledge sharing practices for your organization. The silver tsunami isn’t stopping, and it’s up to us as workforce planners to plan for the organization of the future today. 

Thank you again to all our moderators, panelists and attendees in making HRetreat such a special event. 

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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