Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce

Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce

Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce

Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce

Synopsis

Executives today recognize that their firms face a wave of retirements over the next decade as the baby boomers hit retirement age. At the other end of the talent pipeline, the younger workforce is developing a different set of values and expectations, which creates new recruiting and employeeretention issues. The evolution from an older, traditional, highly-experienced workforce to a younger, more mobile, employee base poses significant challenges, particularly when considered in the context of the long-term orientation towards downsizing and cost cutting. This is a solution-orientedbook to address one of the most pressing management problems of the coming years: How do organizations transfer the critical expertise and experience of their employees before that knowledge walks out the door? It begins by outlining the broad issues and providing tools for developing aknowledge-retention strategy and function. It then goes on to outline best practices for retaining knowledge, including knowledge transfer practices, using technology to enable knowledge retention, retaining older workers and retirees, and outsourcing lost capabilities.

Excerpt

On July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon and uttered the immortal phrase [That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.] Armstrong's achievement, a feat replicated by 11 other U.S. astronauts who followed him, represents possibly the greatest technological achievement in human history.

More than $24 billion was invested by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) over 10 years to land astronauts on the moon. At its peak, 400,000 people were working on the Apollo project. And Armstrong's feat was no lucky accident. By 1972 five more Apollo missions proved that NASA could safely explore the moon and had learned a tremendous amount about space travel. So why haven't humans been back to the moon in more than 30 years? Well, to be sure, there have been other priorities in the U.S. space program. Exploring distant planets with unmanned space craft, conducting Space Shuttle experiments, and building the International Space Station have consumed much of NASA's $15 billion annual budget in recent years. And ongoing budgetary constraints and the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia in February 2003 added to the uncertainty about NASA's long-range goals.

But, even when government officials talk about returning to the moon, few mention the simple and startling fact that the U.S. space agency has forgotten how to get there. The $50 billion-plus price tag put on returning to the moon quietly ignores the fact that NASA has forgotten how they did it in the first place. That's because sometime in the 1990s NASA lost the knowledge it had developed to send astronauts to the moon. In an era of cost-cutting and downsizing, the engineers who designed the huge Saturn 5 rocket used to launch the lunar landing craft were encouraged to take early retirement from the space program. With them went years of experience and expertise about the design trade-offs that had been made in building the Saturn rockets. Also lost were what appear to be the last set of critical blueprints for the Saturn booster, which was the only rocket ever built with enough thrust to launch a manned lunar payload. One NASA manager confessed, [If we want to go to the moon again, we'll be starting from scratch because all of that . . .

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