Study examines workplace risk of losing baby boomers' expertise

May 18, 2011

Many organizations are under prepared for the loss of valuable knowledge as the oldest members of the baby boomer generation near retirement.

PhD research by Victoria University graduate Dr Carmel Joe suggests that few organisations have systems for identifying older experts or retaining their expertise after they retire.

Within 10 years, the Department of Labour predicts that 25 per cent of New Zealand's workforce will be over 55 years of age and, says Dr. Joe, fewer young people are coming through to replace them.

" (those born between 1964 and 1981), is only 75 per cent of the size of the baby boomer cohort. The is also expected to grow more slowly after 2016."

Dr. Joe describes herself as a "young baby boomer" and says her PhD research topic grew out of observations she made while working in the public service and as an IT and management consultant.

"I was meeting a lot of senior executives with specialised and a great deal of wisdom and experience who were nearing . In bigger organizations, such as some and , it’s not uncommon for the majority of the senior management team to be near the end of their careers.

"Another prompt was coming across instances where people had been made redundant but were later re-hired because the organisation needed their knowledge and hadn't been able to replace it."

Dr. Joe says organisations can invest heavily in systems to capture, manage and share knowledge but these are not generally being used to gather and store the knowledge of older experts.

"Some aspects of a job can be documented but not everything. When I asked people what they would do if an expert in their team disappeared tomorrow, most replied that they'd have all the materials that person had generated but not the added element of the tacit knowledge they hold in their head.

"Experts become very attuned and intuitive about what to do and what not to do but it's knowledge that is hard to define or write down. They also have a lot of referential knowledge—they know where to go to find things out."

As part of her research, Dr. Joe 'shadowed' an expert in a sole charge position providing technical advice through a help desk.

She says while he was a highly valued staff member, few people understood exactly what he did, and analysing his job and how he went about it made his skills and knowledge more evident.

"This process is useful if you want to train someone else to do the job or to understand why a person is successful at their job, and what expertise and skills they have that you want to retain or encourage others to develop."

Dr. Joe has created a model that organisations can use to identify the knowledge held by older experts and integrate it in to their knowledge retention processes. She now aims to work with organisations that want to identify and retain expertise in a sustainable way.

Explore further: Moving to the 'burbs is bad for business: Study reveals a surprising truth about location

Provided by Victoria University

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Baby boomers are reinventing retirement

Oct 11, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The challenges faced by recent retirees are changing how we plan for and expect to experience retirement in the future, say the academics working on a new University of Melbourne study.

Networking: Capturing baby boomers' knowledge

Dec 12, 2005

A third of the aging baby-boom generation employees of Bruce Power, Canada's private nuclear power producer, are poised to retire in the coming years, taking decades of insights into complex nuclear reactor systems and steam ...

Older workforce requires variety of recruitment strategies

Jul 08, 2008

Employers globally are facing challenges and needs posed by baby-boom generation employees. A new Penn State study of 208 U.S. employers found a wide range of strategies used to recruit and retain older workers, rather than ...

Recommended for you

'Patent trolls' jeopardize innovation, study finds

18 hours ago

(Phys.org) —New research co-authored by a Naveen Jindal School of Management accounting professor suggests that companies that don't manufacture goods or products but sue companies that do threaten innovation and economic ...

Sustainability reporting falling short

19 hours ago

Once on the fringe of institutional investors' considerations, reporting on environmental, social and governance related issues is now common practice among major listed companies.

Marcellus drilling boom may have led to too many hotel rooms

Sep 18, 2014

Drilling in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale region led to a rapid increase in both the number of hotels and hotel industry jobs, but Penn State researchers report that the faltering occupancy rate may signal that there are ...

Entrepreneurs aren't overconfident gamblers

Sep 17, 2014

Leaving one's job to become an entrepreneur is inarguably risky. But it may not be the fear of risk that makes entrepreneurs more determined to succeed. A new study finds entrepreneurs are also concerned about what they might ...

User comments : 0