Given current economic conditions it is hard to believe there may be a looming labor shortage in the U.S. Periodicals of all size and repute have discussed the topic. Just do a search (boomer “labor shortage”) and read a few articles to reach your own conclusion.
The short version, as soon as 3-5 years the U.S., due to increasing numbers of Boomers retiring, will be left with a smaller, less-experienced work force.
There are so many variables, the argument won’t have been decided for another 20-30 years :).
Tied to concerns of a potential labor shortage are concerns involving knowledge transfer. As the more ‘worldly’ move on, they’re taking their hard-won knowledge with them. Those left behind will have to relearn everything themselves. There is a potential loss of competitiveness from things like lost productivity, re-learning, and ability to recruit to meet needs.
Here’s a real-world example.
A friend of mine was an electrical engineer at Ford, calibrating transmission designs, when Ford did the infamous ‘Ford 2000’ program. The gist of the Ford 2000 program was the accelerated retirement/departure of older workers to give room for younger people to advance. New blood would give fresh life to a stale industry.
In the following re-organizations, my friend was assigned the ‘added’ task of doing transmission oil dipstick tube routing. You know, how does that tube go from ‘down there’ to ‘up here’ with all the kinks in it? She spent a good part of the next year learning the INs and OUTs of dipstick tube routing. Before the basic ‘design’ work is done, a lot of effort is expended negotiating with other teams (e.g. engine folks, A/C folks, suspension folks…) for the ‘air space’ her tube could pass through. How might an experienced Boomer have helped grease the process, pass on who to talk to, and how?
Of all the things that go on in the design of a modern vehicle, one can only wonder at the knowledge loss behind ‘routing oil dipstick tubes.’
In my experience, with companies of differing levels of sophistication, there is near-zero succession planning. Yes, there’s an increasing appreciation that boomers are leaving; the remaining work force is smaller; and, knowledge loss is a concern. But it typically is a tertiary concern at best, pushed aside by more pressing short (and long) term concerns.
I believe one of the best ways to drive knowledge transfers involves a combination of *structured support platform and *ties to compensation. There are tools to help support education processes; nothing new there. What typically is missing is the compensation piece. “What gets measured gets done,” as the saying goes. And, often, you can just as readily supplant ‘measured’ with ‘paid for.’
We all like to support grand ideas, support noble causes, and the like. But, within ourselves, the reality is that we all do these things for much more personal reasons. It may be as simple as we like to ‘feel good’ about ourselves.
The about-to-depart boomer, like any other ‘short timer,’ is increasingly self-minded once a departure date is identified. Interest in sharing what they’ve learned, since doing so doesn’t help them in ‘their’ job anymore, rapidly dissipates. To keep them engaged, to motivate them, requires creative thinking which often involves adjusting compensation to support what you want to achieve.
At the most basic level it comes down to ROI. Is it worth a $30K bonus (an example), to make sure the people Bob is leaving behind, have the knowledge to continue being successful? I’m interested in your thoughts and encourage you to comment.
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