As the workforce ages, manufacturers are facing a new challenge: how can expert knowledge be effectively preserved when workers leave their positions? The percentage of people in the United States over 55 has doubled in the last 20 years. The population is expected to continue to gray. The effect on the workforce is unprecedented. While many older workers are choosing to work longer, a greater percentage of the workforce is also retiring.
By 2030, the US Census Bureau projects that about one in every five Americans will be 65 or older. This general demographic is reflected in employment. In fact, the average age of retirement is also rising, meaning that more older Americans are currently employed than ever before. With these changes, companies are finding that more and more knowledge, expertise, and skills are held by people who may soon be retiring. If this expert knowledge remains entirely in the minds of workers soon to retire, it is in danger of being lost.
The manufacturing industry is being hit harder by the challenges of an aging workforce than most other industries. This is partially because the industry has existed for so much longer than many service businesses that have only arisen over the past few decades, but also because manufacturing employers tend to retain older employees while encouraging them to retire at a later age. Manufacturers also struggle to attract younger workers, which can only exacerbate the challenge.
Various methods of “retirement proofing” endangered expert knowledge have been tried. These methods include delaying retirement as long as possible, reorganizing into mixed-age teams, and finding ways of accurately tracking changes and skill acquisition over time. All of them have their own challenges and have brought mixed success.
Learning how to retain expert knowledge
An effective approach to handle expertise and skill composition among aging employees involves monitoring certifications, training, and skill acquisition. Regular assessment and ranking of skill importance, application of knowledge, and urgency of training or replacement helps. While part of this approach must be handled through new policies and procedures, technology can also be leveraged.
To better retain expert knowledge, organizations need to first identify the types of knowledge that need to be collected. Next, they must ensure that this knowledge is well-organized, searchable, and secure. Solutions for these requirements can be specialized across industries.
Some industries already have well-developed methods for tracking the existence and application of expert knowledge. Information technology, for instance, has embraced change tracking technology for years. This allows teams and organizations to chart, follow, and replicate any updates or changes to both hardware and software infrastructure. In an ideal change tracking situation, the entire IT superstructure of an organization can be rebuilt from the ground up by brand-new employees.
Tracking expert knowledge in manufacturing
Manufacturers are prioritizing efforts to retain expert knowledge by ensuring it is either passed to newer recruits or otherwise retained in the organization. While mentorship and apprenticeship programs are proving to be reliable means of passing skills and information between generations, they are incomplete. Other methods of retaining knowledge remain critical to success.
Among these methods are the best practices for retaining expert knowledge recommended by The Manufacturing Institute, such as collecting older workers’ knowledge using centralized electronic records. Companies are seeing success using electronic records to collect and safeguard their older employees’ knowledge. The IT approach to tracking expert knowledge required the development and adoption of an array of new technologies. Thankfully, similar technology can be used to track and retain expert knowledge in manufacturing.
Arch has recognized the need for manufacturers to retain expert knowledge from an aging workforce. Thanks to innovative approaches to data collection and analysis, monitoring can extend beyond simple machine data and into rich data collection. ArchFX includes a variety of technologies used by manufacturers to identify and track operational data across multiple lines and factories. One of the capabilities of this technology is the Action Manager, an integral component of the platform that enables the recording and tracking of both automated alerts and the actions taken to address those alerts.
Part of an integrated plan
Technology-based solutions should not be an organization’s entire approach to retaining expert knowledge, but they are a critical component of an integrated plan. Manufacturers should be looking at comprehensive approaches to prepare for the knowledge loss that is a part of an aging workforce. The best practices outlined earlier contain several effective practices for both recording knowledge and for preparing newer workers for future needs and responsibilities.
The ArchFX Platform fits perfectly into this plan by providing a proven method for capturing actual experience and practical skills. With Action Manager, the actual events and steps taken to respond are recorded for future workers.
Retirement is a natural part of employment. Though manufacturers are faced with an unprecedented number of retirements in the near future, this can be seen as an opportunity for both improving operational knowledge and skill-building for the next generation of workers.