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‘Knowledge is Power’ is a phrase we hear often, meaning we jealously hold on to or guard what we learn, not sharing if possible.

The baby boomer generation is starting to retire. The Pew Research Centre in 2010 estimated that in the US alone, ‘roughly 10,000 “Baby Boomers” will turn 65 today and about 10,000 more will cross that threshold every day for the next 19 years’. Over their lifetimes this generation have seen problems, solved them numerous times over and in doing so have built up a wealth of experience. From an industry perspective the impact of the retirement of this generation will mean that corporate memory will be eroded, the knowledge accumulated lost, requiring re-building at a cost to business.

To add to this, the current workforce generation are much more mobile and no longer have a ‘job for life’ approach. Treating ‘knowledge as power’ simply exacerbates this problem, especially if we wait until people decide to retire before actively trying to capture this, given most employment contracts only require a months’ notice period.

The UK Government has recognised these issues within the public sector and has issued a white paper called ‘Knowledge Principals for Government’ (2016). The paper identifies 7 main principles for managing knowledge. The first core principle is that knowledge is a valued asset; ‘If knowledge is not valued, Knowledge Management will not attract the level of resource required for success’. This means taking a proactive approach to preventing knowledge loss.

To industry this knowledge loss is recognised as a loss of competency; skills, knowledge, attitude, training and experience. With a diminishing (and ageing) workforce and an increasing focus on competence to maintain production levels, this increases its importance.

To industry the impacts of knowledge loss can be seen in a number of ways including:

  • Staff having information which means that certain shift teams are seen as more efficient or more problematic;
  • Mistakes and/or the same incidents repeatedly occuring;
  • Work is redone as staff are unaware of previous projects; or
  • that equipment or processes are not, or cannot, be maintained efficiently when certain key individuals are unavailable.

Ultimately this always hits us financially either through lost time / efficiency or through increased incidents. Part of the reason we don’t do more is that we firstly don’t ‘normally’ recognise a loss of knowledge or competence when completing incident investigation. Secondly, we often don’t know ‘what good looks like’ when it comes to retaining knowledge or competence and therefore just accept the status quo.

The key to addressing this is treating knowledge as an asset and proactively identifying what you need to efficiency run your business, both at present and in the future. With this information you can then look to address gaps. It is far easier to address this in a proactive manner when people are motivated to help than when they’ve decided to leave and consider the knowledge they have gained as their ‘power’. Tools are available to help retain knowledge and these have been used successfully in several industry sectors. The tools must fit to your company’s needs.  The key is finding a consultancy that can help you understand what would work best for you and not letting the mantra ‘knowledge is power’ undermine your business needs.