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Retaining Tacit Knowledge: The Aging Aerospace and Defense Workforce

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that more adults age 65 and older left the labor force in 2020 than in any year since the U.S. began tracking such information in 1948. As the aerospace and defense workforce approaches retirement, each organization needs a plan for supplementing the knowledge that will be lost. According to industry experts, roughly 12 million manufacturing employees now working in the U.S. are at least 55 years old. Replacing these key individuals when they leave the workforce is a substantial issue for aerospace and defense suppliers and manufacturers.

What Is Tacit Knowledge?

“Tacit knowledge” is a term that refers to any information that is not widely known by other employees within an organization. It is not documented and exists only in the minds of those who have captured it through experience.

Knowledge learned through on-the-job experience is some of the most valuable, as it applies to real-world situations. Unfortunately, in many cases, employees take this knowledge with them when they retire. That is why it is essential to retain and pass along as much of this Tacit knowledge as possible.

Identify Tacit Knowledge Keepers

Organizations should also work to identify the “tacit knowledge keepers” in the company, with an objective to “download” as much information from these mentors as possible before they retire. These people will be the ones who have the most experience and who have worked on the widest variety of machines and in the widest variety of roles. Often times, these people are noted mentors within the company who work with newer employees to help get them up to speed.

If possible, consider retaining some of the more experienced Tacit knowledge keepers as consultants as they retire. Often times, individuals will be more than happy to contribute long after they have left the organization, and their assistance can be crucial. Experienced employees can be brought back into the fold to work with the younger generation on specific projects that require their experience. This collaboration will facilitate the knowledge being passed down in a practical manner.

Creating Access to Tacit Knowledge

Interviewing tacit knowledge keepers, while setting-up extremely accurate record-keeping systems for the information they hold, is a must. Organizations should also consider ways of making this information available as a teaching or learning asset for those to whom the knowledge would apply.

Organizing your team’s tacit knowledge in an easily accessible way is crucial. Nearly every office has file cabinets filled with papers that never get reviewed. If important information is out of sight and out of mind, it will quickly be forgotten and lost. Organizing information gained from the possessors of tacit knowledge in a searchable, easily accessible, and digital directory will make it much more likely that this critical knowledge is utilized to benefit the organization, rather than collecting dust in a file cabinet.

Contact us for more information on how your organization can develop and implement an effective plan to retain and transfer tacit knowledge effectively.

About the Authors

Andy Reagan

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