Baby Boomer Brain Drain

By Steve Schumacher

When Your Veteran Employees Retire, It May Cause A Drop In Skills And Productivity, But There Is Something You Can Do About It.

We have all heard the dire predictions of Baby Boomers retiring from the workforce and leaving companies in the lurch, when it comes to knowledge and skills.

A lot of those predictions have come true in various sectors of our economy, including aggregates. The recession has lessened the blow of those retirements somewhat, as Baby Boomers have decided to work longer to stave off the effects of the financial crisis.

Whether your company has felt the effects of Baby Boomers leaving your company or not, it is a wise decision to be proactive and put some plans together to ensure that the skills and knowledge they have gets passed along to younger workers. It is hard enough to get qualified employees these days, especially if a lot of your operations are in areas that are not very attractive to young people and their families.

People entering the workforce these days are not as likely to have the attitude of working for one company until retirement, like many Baby Boomers did. They tend to want short-term satisfaction from a job, and may likely move from job to job early in their career to get training and skills to make themselves more marketable. Given those reasons, along with it just makes good business sense, it is imperative that you use your current knowledge and skills base to train the younger workforce you already have in place.

Many of the companies I have worked with over the years are not proactive with transferring the knowledge that Baby Boomers have to the younger workers. They let them retire, and then bring them back on as consultants. There are some specific things you can do prior to them retiring, so you do not take on the added financial burden of paying them for their expertise, once they have retired.

Look at your work processes.
Have some of your experienced employees, probably process engineers; take a close look at all your processes. Have them do a comprehensive audit of how you go about doing your business. Not only will this identify ways to improve efficiencies and costs, it will provide a baseline for the training you need to develop to enhance the skills of your employees.

Identify employees near retirement.
Assess where your current workforce is, in terms of being close to retirement. Ask them how much longer they plan on working for you. Without doubt, a number of them will have invested 20-30 years with you and have a wealth of expertise that they can pass along. Finding out what their timeline towards retirement is will give you a window in which you will be able to set up knowledge transfer.

Update job descriptions.
Get your HR department involved in making sure the job descriptions for your employees are up-to-date, and include any changes necessary after the process audits. Doing this will further identify the gaps between the skills and abilities your workers have, and what they need.

Identify Baby Boomers as trainers. 
Not all of your veteran employees will want to train others, or have the skills necessary to be trainers. It is important that they are motivated to train, coach and mentor younger workers. If they have a poor attitude toward the company, they are probably not a good choice. If they would like to be involved in training others, but do not have training skills, provide them the skills they will need. Have them work closely with someone who can build training programs, in order to develop a storehouse for their knowledge and best practices.

Set up formal training and mentor programs.
Put your younger workers through the training you have developed, and assign each of them a veteran employee as a mentor.

Regardless of the initial training the younger workers went through a refresher is always a good thing. Plus, the process audits will have identified areas that may have not been included in the initial training. 

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected]

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