The Power of Knowledge Transfer: Unlocking Organizational Potential in Skilled Trades
In today’s fast-paced business environment, the need for organizations to constantly update their skills and knowledge is critical. This is particularly true in skilled trades where a lack of competency can lead to disastrous outcomes. The need for knowledge transfer, therefore, becomes a crucial tool that can unlock organizational potential by ensuring that valuable expertise is passed down to the next generation of skilled workers.
Unfortunately, the current demographic shift is eroding the pool of qualified skilled tradespeople who have the practical experience to pass on to the next generation. In addition, a recent industry report suggests that the average age of skilled tradespeople who are retiring is 57 years old, with only 13% of the workforce being aged 25 to 34 years. Despite the evident gap, however, many organizations can still tap into the collective knowledge of these seasoned workers, thanks to the power of knowledge transfer.
What is Knowledge Transfer
Knowledge transfer is the process of sharing knowledge, expertise and skills. By passing on valuable insights and tacit knowledge from one generation of workers to the next; organizations can unlock the full potential of both the young and the old employees. This transfer can take various forms, including formal training programs, apprenticeships, mentorship, peer-to-peer knowledge transfer, and documentation. Let’s take a closer look at some of these methods.
Methods for Knowledge Transfer
Formal Training Programs
Although formal training programs such as classroom settings, online modules, and instructor-led courses have a structured approach, they are often isolated from on-the-job learning. They may not adequately position workers to ultra-specific and personalized on-the-job experience. As a result, some workers may find the training less relevant to their tasks, since context is often key in skilled trades. In essence, these formal programs usually have limited depth and can be helpful, but are generally not enough on their own.
Apprenticeships offer a structured learning format that pairs an experienced worker with an inexperienced worker, often known as a journeyman and an apprentice. The journeyman mentors the apprentice on-the-job in real-time, during which they teach them the skills and knowledge of the trade. The mentorship relationship lasts several years and can have significant benefits, including passing on tacit knowledge, creating a long-term relationship and continuity within the trade.
Peer-to-peer transfer usually happens when experienced workers who have specific knowledge share this knowledge with colleagues informally. This transfer is often spontaneous and is not structured. Peer-to-peer knowledge transfer works best when the experienced worker feels ownership over specific knowledge/skill areas that they actively share with their colleagues.
Mentorship is like an apprenticeship, but instead of a structured curriculum, the mentor and mentee often work together on the job, the mentor answering the mentee’s questions when they come up. Mentorship can also be an excellent platform for transfer of tacit knowledge, so long as the mentor understands their role is to transfer knowledge, with specific objectives rather than just overseeing the mentee’s work.
Documentation and records keeping of various processes and ongoing information can be a crucial tool for knowledge retention, particularly as workers retire. However, documentation is not enough, and it should be complemented with face-to-face communications; a comprehensive and adaptable knowledge management system would be immensely helpful.
Benefits of Knowledge Transfer
1. Maximizes Knowledge
Knowledge transfer is a crucial tool that organizations can use to unlock the potential of existing workforces. By sharing knowledge and expertise, organizations can maximize what they have, by ensuring they retain the knowledge of experienced workers before they leave. Successful knowledge transfer helps organizations build a larger and more knowledgeable employee pool.
2. Faster on-boarding
The transfer of tacit knowledge through knowledge transfer helps deliver knowledge in real-time, making it applicable and relevant to the task at hand. It is faster and more practical when on-boarding new employees, who can quickly become productive in a shorter period.
Knowledge transfer can help organizations save money. Keeping experienced workers is often more cost-effective than hiring new employees, who may lack knowledge and skills, forcing organizations to invest time and money on training. Organizations that regularly engage in knowledge transfer are often more self-sufficient and less reliant on external contractors or consultants.
4. Successful Succession
Knowledge transfer lays the groundwork for successful succession planning. As experienced workers retire, an organization’s knowledgebase can decrease significantly. However, knowledge retention ensures new workers can step into the roles of the departing experienced workers without significant disruption.
Knowledge transfer is a critical tool that every organization can use to unlock the potential of their employees. In skilled trades, it’s even more essential, as knowledge transfer is an effective way of ensuring the continuity of the knowledge and expertise necessary for safety and compliance. With the possible shortage of experienced workers, it’s up to organizations to increasingly encourage mentorship, apprenticeships and provide opportunities for knowledge transfer for their employees. By doing so, organizations can build a skilled, knowledgeable and confident workforce that’s primed for maximum success.