Chances are that talent and talent development are on the minds of your CEO and executive leadership team. According to a recent McKinsey survey, executives increasingly see investing in retraining and “upskilling” existing workers as an urgent business priority—and they also believe this is an issue where corporations, not governments, must take the lead. The same study revealed that sixty-two percent of executives believe they will need to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce between now and 2023 due to advancing automation and digitization.

It’s a two-pronged problem in a zero-unemployment economy that continues to make employee retention a challenge. First, your best workers have more employment choices and opportunities than ever. Secondly, your older and more established and experienced workers’ investments have recovered from the most recent recession, making them more willing to move towards retirement.

Addressing the Skills Gap and the ‘Silver Tsunami’

It’s been called the “silver tsunami,” the number of Baby Boomers retiring has reached 10,000 per day—the population of a small city leaving the workforce every day. Combine the growth in Boomers retiring with the influx of millennials entering the workforce and you get a skills gap that will force companies to consider alternatives for training and development.

The mass exodus of Boomers isn’t a new trend. It began in 2011, when the first of the Boomers turned 65 and began to retire. Back then, the momentum was slowed by lingering concerns over the 2008 economic slowdown. But now, retirements are accelerating.

Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute issued their third report on the issues three years ago — the latest titled “The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing: 2015 and Beyond.” They report the gap between available skilled workers and available jobs is widening—due to economic expansion and retiring baby-boomers. Bottom line, 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled by 2025, but a lack of skilled workers means two million of them will go unfilled without some radical changes.

The loss of business intelligence and corporate knowledge these baby boomers possessed—especially in R&D-focused companies—could amount to billions of dollars of lost intellectual capital. To mitigate this potential massive loss, leaders must act fast.

How the Skills Gap Is Impacting Your Workforce

The skills gap alarm bells are also ringing loudly in the halls of government. President Trump was told by visiting manufacturers in February 2017 that they have the jobs, but can’t find people with the skills to fill them. The federal response has been $1.4 billion in “Investing in Innovation” grants to school districts and training providers to gear up STEM education, improve career pathways, and strengthen the pipeline of students to jobs. This year, the name has been changed to the Education Innovation and Research (EIR) grant competition, with $180 million budgeted for innovative programs.

According to the same McKinsey survey referenced earlier, there’s also a gap when it comes to solutions. 82 percent of executives at companies with more than $100 million in annual revenues believe retraining and reskilling must be at least half of the answer to addressing their skills gap, however only 16 percent of private-sector business leaders in this group feel “very prepared” to address potential skills gaps, with roughly twice as many feeling either “somewhat unprepared” or “very unprepared.” The majority felt “somewhat prepared”—not exactly a clarion call of confidence.

Barriers to Closing the Skills Gap

So, what are the main barriers? About one-third of executives feel an urgent need to rethink and upgrade their current HR infrastructure. Many companies are also struggling to figure out how job roles will change and what kind of talent they will require over the next five to ten years. Some executives who saw this as a top priority—42 percent in the United States, 24 percent in Europe, and 31 percent in the rest of the world—admit they currently lack a “good understanding of how automation and/or digitization will affect our future skills needs.”

Barriers aside, the skills gap is real. It’s an organizational challenge that isn’t going away, and depending on your industry, the ramp up and time to train and develop your leaders varies. For utility companies, for instance, the development time for plant managers can be longer than 10 years, while engineers and other STEM talent can take 24-36 months or more to ensure that your experienced workers have mentored their less experienced counterparts before they exit your workforce and move towards retirement.

How to Organize, Plan and Execute Your Knowledge Sharing Efforts

It will take a creative and multi-tiered approach in partnership with communities, government, and educators for companies to find the skilled workforce they need. The exit of a knowledgeable workforce will be felt the most in industries like utilities, oil and gas, where learning and development has a sharp curve.

The organizational effort of attempting to keep the job knowledge of employees consistent despite turnover is called knowledge sharing. Sometimes referred to as knowledge continuity management, knowledge sharing focuses on passing critical knowledge from exiting employees to their replacements. Knowledge sharing is an organization-wide effort to build long-term knowledge continuity across the board.

Knowledge sharing begins with an organization’s culture and values—but for today’s businesses, it also involves intergenerational relations, as well as adapting company culture to accommodate the needs of Millennials.

Key Components for a Successful Knowledge Sharing Program

Successful training requires first developing a granular map of how technology will change the skill requirements within your company. Once this is understood, the next step will be deciding whether to tap into new models of online and offline learning and training or partner with traditional educational providers. Some key components of a successful knowledge sharing program with an end goal of closing the skills gap are:

1) Highly defined and organized employee mentoring programs.

This type of learning does not occur through professional development opportunities (i.e., classroom training), but rather, through knowledge sharing. Approximately 70% of learning happens on the job, and an additional 20% occurs with and through others. Try asking specific employees to lead casual “lunch and learns,” start a mentoring program, or ask willing Millennial employees to videotape interviews with senior level company experts and post them on your Intranet.

2) Customized and targeted learning opportunities to accelerate skills, development and employee growth.

One simple way to do this is by taking learning online. This is especially important if your employee base is remote or contract. Offer online venues for sharing information. These include podcasts and YouTube channels; or an internal knowledge base focused by area of expertise; websites or knowledge profiles; or simply a list of company experts who can be contacted for answers, information, and troubleshooting. Most employees, given the opportunity to improve their current skills, will eagerly participate in self-paced training, especially when a cross-company, friendly competitive element is introduced (such as Hubspot training, where the self-paced training is tracked and recorded, and each certificate gained by a member of the team is visible to the entire team). Centralized training tracking also helps newer employees identify who the experts are.

3) Solid employee communication between you and the workforce you are currently skilling up.

When you introduce knowledge sharing to employees, begin by inviting them to participate and acknowledge each individual and his or her history and skills. Include them in the process, or they may feel used. Many might also fear that you are asking for their knowledge because they are going to lose their jobs. Take extra time to stress their value, their legacy, and the fact that employees of all ages will act as givers and receivers of knowledge.

Because of the efficiency of technology, millennials are part of a generation that is used to instant gratification and may be reluctant to accept a workplace with poor communication. The trouble with this notion is that Baby Boomers have a plethora of knowledge to transfer down but all too often feel intimidated by technology as a form of communication and as a mechanism of knowledge transfer.

4) Develop tiered retirement plans for your experienced workforce encouraging them to scale down slowly over a period of time

Facilitate intergenerational interaction. Create forums and general opportunities for senior experts and leaders to interact with newer and/or younger employees. Opportunities for cross-generational learning could range from mentoring to “Ask the Expert” roundtables or project reviews. Retirement packages can be tiered and flexible, as participation from older workers decreases the sharing of knowledge is an imperative component of their transition and should be duly compensated.

Getting Started

The time is now to move forward. Investing in training and knowledge sharing is no longer optional for today’s companies. The skills gap is growing and the silver tsunami isn’t stopping. It’s up to us as workforce planners to develop a solid plan for the organization of the future today.

The good news is that you won’t have to work very hard to get CEO buy-in for training and development incentives like the ones we’ve discussed here. The majority of senior executives see an urgent need to rethink and retool their role in helping workers develop the right skills for a rapidly changing economy—and their will to meet this challenge is strong.

 

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR is an author, speaker, HR professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the President/CEO of Xceptional HR and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.