Newsletter of the Society for Technical Communication, San Francisco Chapter
The Baby Boomers--31 million--will be leaving the work place in the next few years and will be taking their knowledge with them. Companies should not be concerned about a shortage in labor; they should be concerned about a shortage in knowledge. Ken Ball and Gina Gotsill presented their book entitled, Surviving the Baby Boomer Exodus: Capturing Knowledge for Gen X and Y Employees. With so many people leaving the work force and taking their skills and expertise along with them, we must ask ourselves, how can we retain that knowledge and effectively communicate it throughout the entire company? Ball and Gotsill's book delivers a promise, it is a guide that provides a methodical approach for a culture that encourages employees to share their knowledge and in which collaboration is valued.
Is knowledge worth retaining? Absolutely--because knowledge recovery is very expensive! Any piece of information or understanding that is essential to the flow of business should be shared with everyone. This could mean that concepts or resources need to be documented so that they can be accessible by anyone. Many times, very few people, or sometimes only one person will retain information critical to a certain process in the flow of business. This is not beneficial because if this employee is absent then business will become disrupted. In order to avoid wasting time and money Ball and Gotsill say that each company should have a strategic plan, and need to act on it now! Training is essential to successfully get through this challenge.
Their book breaks down the generations into three categories, Baby Boomers, (born 1946-1964) Generation X, (1965-1979) and the newest to the job market, Generation Y (1980-1995). Each age group has different learning preferences and values. The older generations tend to be highly structured, have stronger work ethics, and they believe in "paying your dues." Generation Y grew up with technology being the way of life which separates them from the other two groups. This younger generation of workers has higher social awareness, they expect information quickly, and are much less interested in paying their dues. Company management must understand their employees' motives and learning styles because knowledge retention is not just about the older generations passing down information to the younger ones. It is about a culture in which all facets of an organization can freely and willingly share with each other.
Ken and Gina came from Tech Prose in Walnut Creek to meet with us at the STC meeting to share their book and their ideas about Baby Boomers leaving the market place. Consequently, they made us think: what does this mean for us? Technical communicators are a competitive strategy that all organizations should utilize. In order to survive the Baby Boomer exodus, companies need our help to make sure the soft skills, practical knowledge and expertise stays within. This new challenge means we will have new "arrows" in our quiver. . .and we need to shoot! Companies will develop a greater demand for creativity, and new strategies to keep the workplace running smoothly. They will need us to help carry out their training and collaboration--it is essential to survive, and communication plays a vital role! We have great opportunities in front of us so let us take the initiative--find opportunities for growth within our companies, and within ourselves most importantly!