Focusing Knowledge Retention on Millennials

By Leah Shepherd

Aug. 18, 2010

Employers may be overlooking an important side effect of turnover: losing the knowledge of Millennial Generation workers.

With baby boomers retiring, many companies realize the impact of losing that generation’s professional and institutional knowledge. But few seem to be focusing knowledge retention efforts on younger workers.

“It’s not sinking in yet” with employers, and they’re just starting to look at this concern, says Steve Trautman, president of Practical Leader, a consulting firm in Seattle.

Employees change jobs more often when they’re younger, and losing their technical knowledge could be a problem for the business, depending on their skill set and industry. The average turnover cost is 25 to 50 percent of salary, studies show.

“Large companies don’t move fast enough for that generation, which is [switching employers and] looking to expose themselves to new and different things,” explains Brad Mullahy, president of Synaptis, a supplier of employee training products and services.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data show the average American will have 10.8 jobs from age 18 to 42. Many workers have clung to their jobs amid the recession and high unemployment. Still, the overall turnover rate across all industries was 16.3 percent in 2009, according to a survey from Compdata.

“How are we going to maintain quality when we have that kind of turnover?” Mullahy says. “How are we going to maintain consistency with that kind of change going on?”

Interviews, mentoring programs and written reports are common ways to retain employee knowledge. Synaptis offers technology called Knowledge Harvest, which allows users to create a searchable library of video and audio clips. Employees answer questions about best practices, operations or any data that are important. For instance, a pharmaceutical company used videos to document its sales representatives’ top 10 challenges and how best to handle them. Synaptis relied on archived videos when its information technology specialist left the firm and the network went down.

To be an effective tool, videos need to be short—three to five minutes, Trautman says. Otherwise, it can be hard to identify and retrieve the right information.

In the YouTube era, there’s a wider acceptance of video learning, especially by the younger generations, Mullahy notes.

Employers should find out who has special knowledge, regardless of age, Trautman says. Focus on the technical competencies and skills of each worker, he recommends.

“Nearing retirement does increase the risk profile, but being young does not reduce it,” Trautman says. “You could be five years on the job and be very unique and very important to the business, and your age doesn’t have anything to do with it.”

Workforce Management, August 2010, p. 6Subscribe Now!

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