Step 5: Next Step Identification
This is the step in which true knowledge sharing
and retention begins. How you proceed will vary
from company to company but mentorship tends
to be the most common technique (see sidebar for
Manufacturers are uniquely positioned to make
knowledge sharing fun, exciting and interactive.
With anywhere from three to five generations under
one roof, opportunities for mentoring are all around.
“Having a company culture which embraces and
sees direct value in mentoring elevates our experienced
employees and provides the nurturing environment
for knowledge and skills to be passed onto our
apprentices,” said Kelly Victor-Burke, majority
owner and CEO for Burke Architectural Millwork.
“Mentoring is a vital, daily activity at our company.”
(see opposite page for more about the mentorship
program at Burke)
Mentorship can happen in a variety of ways.
What it should never be is a last-minute addition
to an anticipated change. Unless you are first
building a mentorship-based culture, avoid asking
retiring employees to, for the first time, mentor the
less-experienced employees. Mentorship should
never feel like you are being pushed out the door
but rather as a way for the wealth of knowledge
you have to continue. It’s not just C-suite leaders
who care about the legacy they leave behind.
Mentoring is a great way to help ensure the
work and knowledge of dedicated talent remain
intact long after they retire.
Wherever you can, make mentorship part of the
culture and, remember, it can absolutely be a two-
way street. Just as experienced employees can help
new employees learn and develop their skills, younger
generations can impart important knowledge to
older generations not ready to retire. As technology
and innovations advance, some positions may be
changed, adapted or eliminated altogether. This
means you will either lose employees or have to
retrain them for modern positions. Employees in
their 40s, 50s or 60s who have learned high-tech
skills from Generation X and Millennials could
adapt easier to new training opportunities.
Finally, time is another finite resource and intensive
mentorship efforts can negate an employee’s ability
to work as efficiently as they could otherwise.
Consider hiring recently retired workers part-time
to serve as mentors.
“We’ve restructured some of our operations to
better foster mentorship, including bringing in
retired milling experts and to work alongside our
younger apprentices,” said John Barnett, president
Additional Knowledge Sharing Methods
There are plenty of other ways to improve company-wide
knowledge of individual job tasks:
• Interview employees either through written, audio
or video testimonials
• Create training manuals
• Make a point to assess existing processes and
procedures either annually or quarterly (and using this
time to develop processes for new tasks as they
• Develop new apprenticeship and training programs
(and funding exists — check out mimfg.org to learn
about the Going PRO Talent Fund)
• Make succession planning a priority not just for
leadership roles but across all positions. You can
address it with employees as a way to ensure stability
as they move up within the company so they see it not
as an attempt to replace them but as a way to ensure
smooth transitions as they advance in their career
• Locate innovative and new technology that can help
modernize old tasks or increase efficiencies
& CEO of Reed City Group (flip to page 22 for
more on their story). “Our full-time operators have
full-time jobs. We can bring people in to ensure
mentoring happens without having to sacrifice time
Some companies are also utilizing staggered
retirements so rather than being there and then
being gone, your close-to-retirement workers may
reduce hours or days on the job. As they do, they
may already anticipate the importance of mentoring
their replacement and companies should do what
they can to encourage that act.
Step 6: Continuous Improvement
Never assume you’re done. Knowledge sharing
should be a continuous process. Someone will
always be retiring or moving to a new position and
someone else will always be starting out.
Quantifying the benefits of knowledge retention
can be difficult but its importance cannot be
overstated. It remains more cost-effective to retain
an existing employee than it is to hire someone new.
Sharing knowledge can bring a sense of importance
to someone’s day-to-day job. Seeing your employer
have the confidence to train you in new skills can
increase your company loyalty and reduce the
likelihood of looking elsewhere. And never underes-
timate the bonds that can be created between
coworkers when they work side-by-side and
learn from one another.