Author: Tronserve admin
Friday 30th July 2021 05:14 AM
Seven Tips to Retain Tribal Knowledge
Baby boomers achieved a peak size of 66 million in the workforce in 1997 — the largest generation of workers ever — but have since dwindled to 41 million as of 2017, as reported by the Pew Research Center. Their ages in 2017 ranged from 53 to 71. As one generation shrinks, another balloons. Millennials (those born between 1981-96) took over as labor force’s largest age group in the middle of this decade and numbered 56 million in 2017.
With a growing number of boomers retiring, they're taking with them long-held beliefs, workstyles, and, many times, great quantities of tribal knowledge. Losing the latter — that exclusive, often technical, product or process information that is stored inside someone’s head — is what will be most felt by the companies they are departing. In the manufacturing world, this knowledge may be as easy as understanding why an eerie sound is released when a huge piece of expensive equipment warrants maintenance. It may be how to do makeshift fixes of key assets using tools, wires, and who knows what. It may be a technician who far back developed an obscure software workaround to enable old databases and servers to continue to interoperate. No one else may ever figure out how to keep this system running without an expensive new fix.
It’s in a company’s best interest to capture as much of this intelligence as possible to help ease the conversion to a newer, younger workforce — even if those workers don’t buy in to the way things were earlier done. The outflow of baby boomers and influx of millennials and soon Generation Z is taking place at exactly the same time as massive technology changes impact industries, including the Industry 4.0 innovations. This confluence of events is destined to leave a knowledge gap and, likely, a skills gap ahead. Retaining or repurposing tribal knowledge for consumption by younger workers is indeed a challenge. The competitive advantage goes to companies that find ways to pull it off.
Here are some strategies to help:
1. Transfer knowledge the YouTube way
Yes, encouraging the documentation of processes is smart, but doing it through the written word … not so much. Older workers mostly don’t like writing instructions (and don’t always get them right). And many younger workers don’t care to pore over pages and pages of steps. Try using videos to share knowledge via YouTube, which has pioneered showing people how to do things. For example, documenting how to make sensors and software work together to provide asset conditioning monitoring data can be much more potent with a visual dimension. Your videos don’t have to be anything fancy (and don’t even have to go on YouTube). Make them simple and consumable and share with only those who need to know. Having a veteran maintenance tech wear enterprise-connected smartglasses and record their work is one easy way to do it.
2. Leverage smart technology to capture intelligence
By compiling data and applying machine learning or natural language processing to analyze it for patterns and conditions, technology is primarily pulling exclusive information out of someone’s head and making it visible to teams. If you have workers writing daily logs or providing voice recordings that recap activities, getting them to tag key information using their tribal knowledge can help machine learning synthesize the unstructured data and turn it into valuable insights. Your new generation of workers is expecting that technology be applied this way to pass down information.
3. Move away from break/fix to maintenance reliability
Today, the worker who got up at 3 a.m. to repair a machine is judged a hero. Maintenance teams that are always efficiently troubleshooting problems are star performers. But what if machines infrequently failed, and maintenance teams were free to attend to the needs of the whole operation, proactively? With computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platforms, processes can be automated and maintenance more predictive. This enables companies to more proficiently manage assets, free up maintenance resources, and offset the loss of their longtime fix-it gurus.
4. Provide workplace technology that is faster and simpler
Management can learn from fresher generations and their affinity for applications and tools that are easy-to-use and accessible from anywhere. Products from companies such as Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have shaped their views on technology. Many, as for instance, prefer touchscreen functionality over knobs and dials. While it may be challenging to build the tools they will adopt, it’s time to start. This new, “consumerized” or “democratized” technology may not have decades of tribal knowledge, but it is here to stay. And it's best to make the change now while the both the experienced workers with tribal knowledge and the younger digital natives are all still in the plant to work together on making the transition the right way.
5. Encourage online problem solving
A long tradition is out there of testing a job candidate’s tech knowledge and skills by not allowing them to access the internet for help. It is time to rethink this. For young workers today, the internet is a go-to problem-solving tool. Whether they are job candidates, software developers, or whatever, avoid forcing them to show an ability to recall knowledge. Encourage them to leverage any and all resources to get the job done.
6. Incentivize employees to learn from each other
At a few companies, resentment runs both ways. Older workers may be annoyed at seeing younger counterparts move in with new ideas and ways of working. Younger workers may envy the older generation for sticking around and delaying their chances for leadership roles and promotions. It’s not one generation immediately displacing another — the demographic shift is gradual, and seasoned employees will continue to be around for some time. There’s much to be gained by offering incentives for them to spend time together sharing and learning. Get creative here. There are multiple gamification companies out there ready and willing. It’s a win-win and the knowledge transfer does help the company.
7. Cultivate young leadership for driving change
For about the foreseeable future, companies will need people, as robots will only take over jobs that do not need much thinking and analysis. Leaders will come from all the generations in the workforce, but the Gen Xers — those between the baby boomers and millennials — may be your best craps bet for driving change. They get the need for smart technology, but they also respect and value experience and tribal knowledge. In actual fact, they have much of their own.