Don’t leave. But if you do, leave a legacy behind that will serve the industry we all love.
Coming out of a recent series of events, I got to reconnect with some people that I have not seen in many years. It was heartwarming to see them again. A common topic of conversation that came up was retirement. One individual joked that he’s retiring next year, and we’ll be stuck with all the newbies learning the trade. This led me to think about the transition and the impact on our industry in the coming years. How can we best handle this shift in knowledge and make the best of a large population of retiring workers with an immense amount of experience and knowledge?
There’s no doubt that automation is a huge factor in building a resilient business, even more so in the coming years. There’s been a huge uptake in shop automation and the software systems used to drive these computer-controlled machines. It’s no secret that these systems need input. Decisions need to be made as to how they work and what data is input into them. Who has this best knowledge? The experienced people who are thinking of retirement, that’s who.
Take the time in the coming years to leverage the opportunity to transition what’s inside their heads into software systems that will outlive generations to come.
Another quick, simple, and inexpensive method to capture this knowledge is through video. We all can record short videos on our phones anywhere in the office or on the shop floor. Point the camera, ask questions and record. You can create an internal YouTube channel to store all these short videos and use this video bank to refer to when needed. They can be part of the onboarding process. Need to know how to perform a maintenance task on a machine? Watch the video. Need to know how to assemble a certain drawer system? Watch the video. Need the best tips on loading a truck? Watch the video. Watching a video from a veteran in your shop will be available long after that person retires and is fishing on a lake with no cell signal for you to reach them.
You should have some sort of customer relationship management (CRM) software. A place where you track the information about the relationship with your customers and suppliers. Have the experts document key information about these relationships in the software. Pair them up with newcomers, if need be, to enter this information. They have been dealing with your customers and suppliers for many years and have knowledge that we take for granted. Now is your chance to capture that before it’s gone forever.
It's no secret that I’m a huge advocate to get out and learn through events such as trade shows, association events, seminars, etc. Send along some newbies to shadow the veterans at these events so they can see through the lens of an experienced person. Capture some of it on video. Take notes. Make all this available to the entire company for it to live on long after the event has come and gone.
If you don’t have your processes documented, now is the time. Put every step of every task down in writing. Have the seasoned employees dump out what’s in their heads into documents that can then be used to train newcomers. Ask them what areas can be improved based on their experience. I know they’ll have plenty of ideas. Maintenance schedules are also best when they come from the people who have done the work. The theory from the manufacturer is one thing, but the reality from the people who performed these maintenance tasks is the real gold. They lived through doing things right and more importantly doing them wrong. Learn from their experience.
You can even put in place a system to incentivize the experts before they retire. Give them a little something extra as a thank-you for leaving their experience behind for future generations. I guarantee that the employees who have worked in an organization for a long time will feel much better knowing that they can retire in peace because the company will be on solid ground after they leave.
It might also be the right time to consolidate or simplify the chaotic systems in place. If you are using multiple software systems to perform a task, maybe it’s the right time to bring all that knowledge and data into a more streamlined system. You can do it now with the help of the most proficient people in your shop.