This article in our Seattle newspaper (Seattle Times, Sept. 14, 2012) illustrates the dramatic nature of the risk of talent loss and skilled worker shortage. The article looks at the planned move of the Air Force One program from Oklahoma to Texas. It brings home the point that the risk of talent loss is something that should be at the top of every executive’s list of things that keep them awake at night. The article also provides a great opportunity to talk about how knowledge transfer gives executives (including those at Boeing, as you’ll read) the tools to mitigate this risk.

In the news story, the answer to properly maintaining Air Force One—the official air transport of the world’s most powerful person—gave rise to a familiar quote: “You can’t beat experience [emphasis mine],” said Mitch Geraci, an assistant professor of aviation-maintenance science at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. Air Force One “is carrying a very important person. Oversight is key.”

Geraci also notes that the aerospace industry is in a “human factors” push now, recognizing that people are the weakest link in the aviation-safety chain and that training and experience are vital.

There it is: experience is vital, you can’t beat it. But what happens when experienced people are simply not going to be available in the near future? When the very people who have the experience are not going to relocate to another state to continue their work, should a factory move or a headquarters transfer? What happens is the real loss of tribal knowledge, productivity, innovation, and the ability to deliver a product or service on time and on budget. But here’s my audacious claim about the field of knowledge transfer: You can’t replace the wisdom gathered over many years on the job, but you can reduce the amount of time it takes someone to begin acting wisely.

Boeing Uses Knowledge Transfer to Reduce Talent Loss Risk

My consulting company is actually working with a different division at Boeing right now on a contract to move workers and knowledge from Wichita to Oklahoma City. We’re helping move that valuable experience held within a Wichita workforce to a new factory site in Oklahoma with as little downtime as possible. Since not every employee will relocate, we’re using our company’s Knowledge Silo Matrix to help Boeing management quickly see the skills they’ll need in the new location. We are also writing detailed onboarding plans—including peer mentoring between subject matter experts and new hire apprentices—to ensure that the wisdom, tacit knowledge, and experience is transferred along with the work. We’re using our quick and clear 3-step knowledge transfer process—developed over the decades and proven across many industries and scenarios—to do this.

In the article, Geraci correctly values experience, but he seems to think that it cannot be shared or properly transferred. I think that Boeing correctly understands what really matters is a functioning team (set up in the new location) that has absorbed the job role clarity, skills, and knowledge to behave just like an experienced one. That is what we’re working with Boeing to help them gain.

SUMMARY: We use knowledge transfer to address a shortage of job experience and reduce the risk of talent loss. We do this not by throwing up our hands and lamenting the absence of that experience, but by taking real, proven action to replicate it in the heads and hands of coworkers.