Manufacturing businesses need a succession plan. Not for people, but for knowledge.

The industry is facing a wave of retirement unlike any other. Often referred to as the “Silver Tsunami,” thousands of experienced workers are retiring daily. This unprecedented talent loss is draining the industry of its ability to train and retain the incoming workforce.

Manufacturers need to adopt proactive solutions to combat the effects of the aging workforce. In order to prevent the loss of valuable information and successfully transfer expertise to new employees, companies must turn towards modern knowledge management and training strategies.

Losing A Generation of Experts

It’s no wonder that so much valuable information is locked away. The average manufacturer from the Baby Boomer generation has:

  • Worked in the industry for 39 years
  • Only left an employer 3 times
  • Worked for their current employer for 15 years

This generation of workers holds deep pockets of knowledge. The long tenures in their professions creates a level of natural expertise that future generations will miss out on.

Compare that to the trends of the current labor pool. The average tenure of a Millennial is 3.2 years. Meaning the incoming workforce doesn’t have decades to job-shadow and learn from mentors. Skills and knowledge that companies assume employees will accumulate over time, are bound to disappear.

This means fewer experts to prevent mistakes. Fewer gurus available to solve a crisis in a pinch. A generation of experts that the industry has taken for granted.

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The Real Cost of “Brain Drain”

Businesses are failing to capture the knowledge and expertise of their current workforce. A recent survey found that 57% of Baby Boomers have shared less than half of the knowledge needed to perform their job when they retire. More shocking, 21% have shared none of their knowledge — almost a quarter of a generation’s expert knowledge down the drain, for good.

“The retirement onslaught as we predicted is actually happening. You don’t have to be a genius. Just look at the age profile.”

Patrick Flaherty, U.S. State Department of Labor

This loss of knowledge due to retirement is sometimes referred to as “brain drain.” But brain drain is far more serious than a clever rhyme. In fact, it is estimated that manufacturing companies are losing $3,000 annually per employee due to the knowledge gap created by surging retirements.

The aging workforce is clearly full of untapped potential. Yet with a third of the workforce over the age of 55, experienced employees are leaving companies left and right. This knowledge will be impossible to regain once lost.

Preparing for the Future

The Silver Tsunami has arrived. And it’s not slowing down.

While retirement was already on the rise in the manufacturing industry, the impacts of COVID-19 have accelerated the trend. Older workers who were looking to retire in the next 5-10 years are retiring sooner or changing professions.

The global pandemic has taught us that businesses need to become more agile and resilient to change. Companies can no longer rely on their experts to solve all their problems. Workers with valuable skills are busier and more rare than ever, they have little time to pass on their knowledge.

"Experts are already busy doing their jobs, they can’t spend the time they need to properly train new hires."

Manager of Operational Technology, 3M

There is no time to waste. The impacts of the Silver Tsunami will have lasting effects if left unaddressed.

Implement a Knowledge Management Solution

Leverage modern knowledge management tools to capture expertise before impacts of the Silver Tsunami become irreversible.

Assuming manufacturers will have fewer experts and skilled employees available in the future, capturing and distributing the knowledge of your aging workforce should be a top priority.

Industry 4.0 has brought a wave of new manufacturing technology designed to support the evolving demands of the shifting workforce. Knowledge management tools enable businesses to capture explicit process knowledge and the implicit know-how of your most experienced employees. 

Managing knowledge effectively means that you maintain a current record of all the information important to daily operations. This is a never-ending job, so make sure you choose a platform that is easy to update and improve.

Upskill Younger Employees

With a shortage of skilled and experienced workers available, companies need to build expertise within. Traditional training strategies won’t work against the challenges brought on by the Silver Tsunami. Businesses should seek to cross-train and develop skills within their current talent pool.

When you develop your talent within, employees will achieve higher job satisfaction, reducing turnover as a result. With the shortened tenure of the incoming workforce, it's important to provide growth opportunities within your organization. 

Manage Knowledge and Skills with Dozuki

Dozuki provides quick, easy, and current access to all the information your workforce needs.

Use mobile devices to record processes and document the knowledge of your retiring workforce. Instantly access and distribute essential information to your workforce with intuitive and searchable knowledge libraries.

Dozuki is the best ways to document and pass on skills, knowledge, and experience that can be used to jump-start the training of new hires, as well as helping other more established workers solve problems.

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Corey Brown

Written by Corey Brown

With a background in technical writing and engineering, Corey leads content and research efforts for Dozuki; providing helpful information and insights for industry professionals.