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Boomers are retiring in droves – taking valuable skills and company knowledge with them

A generational shift is taking place. Over the next decade, boomers are set to head into retirement in droves. As they walk out the door, they are taking specialized skills, company knowledge and on-the-job expertise – accumulated over decades of employment – with them.

This dramatic loss of talent will leave a significant gap. Replacing retired workers may not be difficult – but expecting younger, less experienced employees to steer the ship through a profound knowledge and skills deficit will be. For organizations to ensure long-term growth and survival, they must work on bridging the talent gap by implementing knowledge-sharing initiatives across the generations. And they must act quickly.

According to projections based on the U.S. Census, an average of 8.0 adults will turn 65 each minute by 2025. It is estimated that approximately 80 million boomers are due to retire over the next 15 years.

But time isn’t the only challenge. The age range of today’s workforce can be 50 years or more – with starkly different teaching, learning and working habits between them. It’s important to find common ground that will serve as a basis for meaningful, transformational relationships and exchanges.

Here are some strategies to consider in the transfer of skills across the generational divide:

Recognize that not everyone learns in the same way

Understand that not all employees work, learn or teach in the same way. While younger generations value learning, they have shorter attention spans, preferring to absorb information in brief, on-demand bursts – ideally served through technological platforms.

Members of the boomer generation have learned through the act of doing. Much of their experience has been gained while on the job. Boomers welcome the opportunity to share their knowledge, but they are less familiar with technological applications than their younger co-workers.

Training and the transfer of knowledge must marry the needs of one group neatly to the demands of the other.

Create a culture of learning starting at the top

Demonstrating that knowledge transfer is highly valued must begin with your leaders who must be willing to freely pass on their knowledge and lessons learned. Acknowledge them as “legacy leavers” and publicly recognize their contribution.

Then, incorporate numerous knowledge-sharing opportunities throughout your organization.

Ask employees to lead informal “lunch and learn” events, create cross-generational teams to solve specific tasks and resolve issues, and videotape interviews with subject matter experts to share through the company intranet.

Create forums and 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 to project reviews.

Capture tacit knowledge

Up to 42% of the knowledge that professionals need to do their jobs comes from other people’s brains – in the form of advice, opinions, judgment or answers. The Delphi Group

Tacit or implicit knowledge is having knowledge without expressing or sharing. Someone who creates a process shortcut and refines it over the years without sharing that knowledge is doing a disservice to the company the day they leave. Don’t let tacit knowledge get away.

Align senior employees with younger employees to facilitate the transfer of best practice methods and techniques. Make thinking visible by documenting all the basic steps from analysis, to the best approach, to successful resolution. Each process should be designed to meet the demands of the issue to which it is being applied, and be repeatable.

Use simulation training as a common ground for the transfer of skills

Simulation, gamification and other experiential learning technologies help employees apply learned skills in low-risk, safe-to-fail practice environments. On average, students retain 75% of what they learned via simulation.

Simulation training is perfect for cross-generational learning. It allows boomers to demonstrate real-life skills in the hands-on way they were taught – using technology that is second nature to millennials. Millennials can learn at their own pace, placing as much emphasis on independent study as they’d like.

Retain critical core skills for future of technology-enabled workplace

As emerging technologies alter the job landscape, the question for many organizations might be, what knowledge and skills of the outgoing worker base must be retained for the future workplace? Core skills that made employees valuable assets in the past will provide the foundation for the organization’s future success.

Technology can’t solve every problem – and in fact, it will create new ones. The ability to think critically and resolve complex, time-sensitive issues will be more important than ever. Preserving these skills through training, mentoring and on-the-job-experiences can better equip younger employees to embrace change and adapt to the new challenges of a technology-enabled workplace.

Be mindful how you position the knowledge transfer plan

When you introduce the idea of knowledge transfer to boomers, it’s important to invite them to participate and include them in the process. Some may fear that sharing knowledge will affect their job security. Take extra time to stress their value and their legacy, and point out that employees of all ages will participate as givers and receivers of knowledge.

By forging a strong and respectful working relationship between the incoming and outgoing generations, you can ensure that learnings of the past are preserved and transferred to the leaders of the future.

Prepare your workforce for the future

Skills for the future of work

Simulation training giving team members hands-on experience without the risk 


About Kepner-Tregoe

For more than six decades, Kepner-Tregoe has empowered organizations through a proven, structured approach to problem solving. As the leader in problem-solving, KT has helped thousands of organizations solve millions of problems through more effective root cause analysis and decision-making skills. Through our unique blend of training and consulting, our clients demonstrate improved efficiency, higher quality and greater customer satisfaction while reducing their costs.

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