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    Teaching new dogs old tricks

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    As Baby Boomers retire, a new generation will need to pick up the slack. But how can you transfer 40 years of experience?

    Between now and 2020 (assuming that time machines and anti-ageing tonics remain confined to sci-fi movies), there are a few facts about the workforce that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.

    1. By 2020, the majority of the Baby Boomers will be at retirement age.

    2. With them, they will take huge amounts of valuable explicit and implicit knowledge about the businesses they work for.

    3. The new entrants to the workforce are very different from those who have gone before. They work differently and, more importantly, they learn differently.

    As of this year, the oldest of the Baby Boomers will be 62. Their managers, although aware that retirement is looming for this group, are doing little to prepare for the event. The loss of business knowledge that will occur, as a result, over the next two decades – the ‘Boomer brain-drain’ as some call it – will affect different businesses in different ways. For some, it will be the loss of one or a handful of top-performers or specialised skill-holders. For others, it will be a gradual shift that will see the staff demographic alter dramatically.

    Whatever shape it takes, the change is certainly coming and the impact will be determined by how a business manages it. There are two logical steps involved in this generation-to-generation knowledge management: firstly, capturing knowledge from the business and, secondly, passing the knowledge on in a way that ensures the first step wasn’t a complete waste of time. Think this is not your problem? Well, prepare to be shocked, because this two-step logic requires input from various sectors of the business.

    For example, managers who need to identify what the important information is, who has it and who needs to get it; CIOs who need to build the systems that both capture the knowledge and ensure it is accessible to those who need it; and HR managers who need to create multi-faceted learning/training environments that suit both new and old workers.

    When it comes to capturing knowledge, there are a number of knowledge ‘nets’ that can be used: mandatory process/procedure documentation, mentor programs and exit interviews are just a few. But the more important question is what to do with all this information. Create an electronic library system or a training session to fill the minds of new, younger workers? This may have worked 20 years ago, but let’s throw a few more facts into the equation:

    1. Today’s 21-year-old was born 11 years after the first computer went on sale.

    2. He or she has spent thousands of hours playing computer games, has exchanged hundreds of thousands of instant messages/emails/text messages and has spent countless hours online.

    3. He or she grew up in a world where blogs, Wikis, skype, podcasts, MySpace and YouTube defined his or her perception of how information is exchanged.

    So unless you want your young workers doodling through training sessions and online courses, using the manual as a shelf for their iPod docking station and then googling the answers to business quandaries, then the growing and ever-changing knowledge within businesses must be presented to them in a way that makes sense.

    So, what makes sense to the multi-tasking, fast-switching Generation Y-er who is au fait with abbreviated communication, likes high-level overviews and only dives into the detail if and when needed? The answer: ‘just enough’ learning solutions that provide the ‘when, what and how’ information at the moment it’s needed and in the context of the task that is being performed.

    This new era will see learning, knowledge and working unite and will rely on the creation of ‘GPS systems’ for businesses. A GPS system doesn’t teach you to drive, but it will guide you on your journey. The external and extrinsic knowledge-management systems of the past required employees to remove themselves from the workflow in order to access support. The intrinsic ‘performance support’ systems of the future will give precise directions and guidelines to employees within the workflow when they demand it, guiding modern workers smoothly through the twists and turns of an organisation’s complex systems.

    Ted Gannan is CEO of Panviva, a leading developer of performance support solutions. Panviva’s flagship product is SupportPoint. Visit www.supportpoint.com

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