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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

Shrinking Pensions and
the Silver Lining

one last chance to cope with a major demographic shift

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

Not too long ago many older workers were taking buyouts, early retirement, and similar arrangements. That was before the stock market took a nose dive.

Now they have realized that their retirement funds are worth a good deal less than expected. The result? More older workers hanging on a little longer than planned.

While this is certainly frustrating on an individual level, companies that address the retention of older employees as an opportunity will get a second chance to prepare for a major demographic shift that could be even more severe, when it finally hits, than we thought just a couple of years ago.

Like it or not, the wave of baby boomer retirements that was just beginning has been postponed, to some extent. And one bit of good news is that that means a great deal of knowledge that helps many an organization function can still be captured, and transferred, to the next generation before it is too late.

The truth is that the loss of all that experience in the span of a few years can significantly damage the productivity and efficiency of the organization. The employees who have been there a long time know a lot of things that aren't documented in the procedures manuals. They know how to get things done, how to spot problems early on and respond to them before they grow. They know the "who" of gettings things done, too, which people have the special knowledge, influence, or access they need to move things along.

The problem is, conserving that knowledge for future generations of workers just isn't a very sexy task. Some people find the whole concept of knowledge conservation and transfer a bit vague, and they find it easier to get rewarded for very specific kinds of training activities.

But, believe me, this may be your last chance to tackle this issue. Because the next wave of retirements could be truly huge, and devastating. After all, while the people who were going to retire this year, or next, hang on a little longer, slightly younger employees are still aging, moving toward the retirement decision.

That means, once the economy improves and stocks rebound, we face an even larger change in employee demoagraphics. The people who are already scheduled to retire few years from now will exit at the same time as these "hangers-on," who have postponed retirement. It's a double whammy, waiting to take all that experience, all that knowledge of how things really work, out the door.

I believe, as my readers know, that as tough as times are right now, a training function that truly contributes to the company's success is still looking at how training can contribute to achieving the best possible results a few years down the road. You have a role in preparing for a different future, and if you put all your energy into coping with a difficult present, you may find that competitors enjoy more of a rebound than you do when conditions improve.

One of the most important things you can think about, right now, is how to take advantage of this reprieve to conserve more of that experience. That could mean using more of these older employees in training activities, helping them directly transfer what they know to younger workers. It could mean using your training staff to collect knowledge about how the most experienced employees do things, about what they know about anticipating and coping with problems, and responding to opportunities, and incorporating that knowledge into orientation, training, and documentation for future workers.

It is fashionable for those in the training business to mutter a lot about how they deliver training to new, young employees. Worrying about "attention span" and "learning span" and "Gen Y" issues sometimes gets too much emphasis, when thinking a little more about the "what," the content, and a little less about the delivery, could pay major dividends in the next couple of years. And crucial content comes from your most experienced workers.

There's an iceberg in front of your corporate ship, and recent events have postponed impact, but it's going to hit, sooner or later. Take advantage of the extra time to get more of that crucial knowledge, held by the most experienced employes into your lifeboats!

© 2009 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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