U.S. companies failing to transfer critical knowledge

2005

Many U.S. organisations are failing to capture critical knowledge and experience from older employees approaching retirement and few seem able to transfer valuable knowledge to newer employees, according to research from consultants Accenture.

The survey of more than 500 full-time U.S. workers between 40 and 50 years of age found that nearly half (45 per cent) of employers have no formal workforce planning processes and/or tools in place to capture their workplace knowledge.

Moreover, a quarter of those surveyed said that their employers will let them retire without any formal transfer of knowledge.

Only one in five said they anticipated an intensive, months-long process of knowledge transfer prior to their leaving, while fewer than one in three (28 per cent) said they expected to undertake a formal process lasting one or two weeks.

For a further 16 per cent, the extent of the transfer process would be some form of informal discussion with others in the organisation prior to their retirement.

"If they don't act soon, organisations will face a major exodus of institutional knowledge, as their most experienced employees leave the workforce," said Kathy Battistoni, a partner in Accenture's Human Performance practice.

"With more than 25 per cent of the current working U.S. population reaching retirement by 2010, companies must undertake workforce development and training initiatives to capture knowledge and minimise its loss.

"Additionally, they must support these initiatives with technology, which can help capture critical information and distribute it directly to employees' desktops."

Compounding the problem is a lack of training for older workers. Four out of 10 of those surveyed said their companies were doing only a fair or a poor job of providing the training they felt they would need to meet the skills challenges they would face prior to retirement.

The research also revealed that few companies take advantage of the experience and expertise of their retired workforce.

Only a third of respondents said that their companies ever hire retired employees as contractors so those former employees could transfer their knowledge and skills to their replacements.

"Companies should take three critical steps to meet the challenge of transferring knowledge from retiring employees," said Battistoni.

"First, they must understand the extent of the problem, including the skills at risk, and their organization's ability to tackle it. Second, they must develop a strategy to capture and transfer core skills from retiring employees and to identify, attract and retain new workers with critical skills.

Finally, they must manage and measure the progress of the entire effort. The bottom line is that leaders in this arena know that capturing critical workforce knowledge and skills can't be left to chance."